31 July 2020

Amiens, a short heatwave, and new eyeglasses

I'm winding down now. Here's one more slideshow of some of the statuary on the west-facing façade of the cathrédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens, built between 1220 and 1290 — 800 years ago. Amiens is a medium-size city about 70 miles north of Paris, in Picardy and near the English Channel coast.

Weather report: our high temperature yesterday was above 90ºF, and it was at least 90ºF up in our loft space by about 7:00 p.m. Our thermometer up there read 32.8ºC (91.4ºF). I've been busy watering potted plants this morning, because it's supposed to be even hotter today that it was yesterday. Oh, and good-bye July.

Here are two two selfies I took yesterday to show me at age 71 and also the new glasses I got last week and this week. The older wire-framed glasses are new lenses in frames that I already had been wearing for a few years.

The newer plastic glasses are new frames and lenses. These frames make me think of glasses I wore back in the 1950s and 1960s, when I was a kid. How about that pandemic buzzcut?

30 July 2020

Stained glass in the cathedral at Amiens

Much of the stained glass in the cathedral at Amiens was lost during World War I. The church was bombarded by the German army. After the war many of the surviving windows were taken down and sent to Paris for restoration work. There, an accidental fire in the building where they were stored destroyed most of them. However, there are still a few original stained-glass windows in the cathedral. And there are some impressive ones that were designed, fabricated, and installed in the 1930s and later in the 20th century. Here are some examples. It's hard to find detailed information about them.

Speaking of glass, I'm getting my new eyeglasses this morning. I'll go pick them up at the optical shop. I ended up deciding to buy a new frame (une monture) for the second pair of lenses. I had the first pair put into a frame that I already had and liked. Now I'll have to see which one, old or new, I like better. It has taken me several days to get used to the new lenses, but my eyes seem to have adapted now and I'm pretty satisfied.

29 July 2020

Two zucchini recipes

I'll come back to Amiens cathedral soon, but first I want to acknowledge something all of us with vegetable gardens already know — it's zucchini season! We're getting three or four zucchinis from our garden every day at this point. Yesterday, Walt grated several zukes, packed the grated pulp in plastic bags, and put them in the freezer. They'll be good sometime not too far in the future for making zucchini bread or soup or fritters. Meanwhile, two recipes and six photos:

A 2020 ratatouille: onions, garlic, tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers, and thyme

Here's a link to a ratatouille post of mine from 12 years ago. And here's a post with a recipe in it. Ratatouille is featured on this blog every summer. You can also make baked ratatouille, like this one I made in 2004.

One thing you can do to make a better ratatouille is to sauté the onions, peppers, zucchini, and eggplant in olive oil, separately, before you put them in the pot to cook with the tomatoes and tomato juice. It's better made with ripe garden tomatoes, of course, but if all you have is canned whole tomatoes with juice, that works too. That's what I did last week, since we don't have any garden tomatoes yet.

Bell peppers — red and green and yellow — give a special flavor to ratatouille. We also don't have any of those from the garden yet, but here in France, at least, I can buy them at the supermarket, frozen. They are cut into strips and frozen separately, not in a big block, so you can take out as many as you want to add to whatever you are cooking. Raw peppers freeze well and taste as fresh as can be. The ingredients listed on the bag of frozen peppers are poivrons rouges, verts, et jaunes en quantité variable. That's it.

Clafoutis de courgettes et de poivrons

A couple of weeks ago, Sheila, a long-time reader of and commenter on this blog, told me about a recipe for a savory custard pie — in French, un clafoutis — made with zucchini, peppers, cheese, and milk or cream. It was a recipe published in the Washington Post newspaper. I'll post it below. It's not exactly the recipe I made, because I already had a French recipe for this kind of clafoutis in my collection, but the differences are minor.

I put some diced up sausage in my version of this clafoutis just because I had some leftover from another meal. Otherwise, it's a lot of vegetables — sliced onions, zucchini cut into matchsticks, and some of those frozen bell peppers I showed above. The vegetables are lightly sauteed first, in butter.

Then you put the sautéed vegetables and optional meat (cooked sausage, cooked chicken or turkey, cooked bacon....) in the bottom of a baking dish and you pour the egg and milk custard mixture over all. Bake the clafoutis in the oven until browned. Test it with a skewer to see if it's done all the way through. The clafoutis will puff up nicely, as you can see above, but it will fall as it cools. And that's okay. It'll still be delicious, eaten hot, warm, or chilled.

Zucchini and Bell Pepper Clafoutis

¾ cup whole milk
½ cup crème fraîche
4 large eggs
¼ cup chopped fresh basil leaves
2½ Tbsp. flour
¾ tsp. fine sea salt, divided, plus more to taste
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup coarsely grated sharp white cheddar cheese, divided
2 oz. sliced ham, chopped
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
2 sweet bell peppers, sliced into ¼-inch wide strips
1 small zucchini (7 ounces), sliced into ¼-inch strips
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Position a baking rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, crème fraîche, eggs, basil, flour, ½ tsp.
of the salt and the pepper. Stir in ¾ cup of the cheddar, along with the ham.

In a 9-inch ovenproof skillet over high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add
the peppers and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add
the zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and the vegetables
acquire golden edges, about 5 minutes. Stir in the garlic and the remaining 1/4
tsp. salt and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute.

Transfer the vegetables into a baking dish. Pour in the egg mixture and top it
with the remaining cheddar and the Parmesan. Bake for about 25 minutes.
Serve hot or cold.

28 July 2020

Seven façade photos

La Cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens, le 21 juillet 2010. Sept images.



27 July 2020

La façade occidentale de la cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens

The west-facing façade of the cathedral in Amiens is made up of three intricately carved portals.

This is a slideshow featuring close-up shots of some architectural details. I believethat  these bas-relief carvings
date back to the time when the cathedral was built in the 13th century.

In the image below, you can see the intricacy of the carvings. The images in the slideshow are some of those that are surrounded by four-leaf clover shapes.

26 July 2020

Cherubs and the baby Jesus

L'ange pleureur, the weeping angel, is one of the most famous works of art in the cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens. During World War I, postcards bearing its image were sent far and wide by Allied soldiers who had come to defend Amiens and the Somme from German forces.

The weeping angel was sculpted by Amiens artist Nicolas Basset in 1628.

The sculptures above and below adorn the tomb of a man named Charles de Vitry and were put in place in the early 18th century.

Above is the Christ child carrying an iron cross and trampling the Serpent. I think all these statues might be the work of Nicolas Basset, who one article I saw described as un étonnant sculpteur baroque...

25 July 2020


By "scale" I mean échelle, as in "a sense of scale" — une idée de l'échelle du lieu. As it applies to these three photos of the interior of the cathédrale d'Amiens, for example.

There's not much here to give you an idea of the scale of the cathedral. Maybe the chairs.

I this one, there are several people. They are dwarfed by the scale of the building. Of the interior space.

You might recognize one of the people I'm talking about. He's the one among the chairs.

I don't know who this person is but, again, she provides scale.

You can enlarge these images by clicking on them with your mouse or "unpinching" them on your tablet. Do you know that you can press the F11 key on your PC keyboard to put your browser in full-screen mode, and push it again to put it back?

24 July 2020

Religious art inside Amiens cathedral

I decided to post these eight photos as a slide show. I don't have a lot to say about any of them, and my quick and dirty research hasn't turned up much. Still, they are worth looking at. The sidshow runs for about two minutes. You'll notice a gory image of the beheading of John the Baptist in mid-show.

In the first photo in the show, I think the bishop (I assume he is one — maybe he's Saint-Honoré, who was the bishop of Amiens some 1,500 years ago) looks an awful lot like the late socialist president of the French Republic, François Mitterrand. Is that Jack Lang (Quel bel homme !) he's talking to? I wonder if the piece was restored in the 1990s, when they were in power. And could that be, Donald Trump in the next-to-last picture, disguised as a priest?
I'm not sure where I took the photo of the painting of an Amiens scene featuring the cathedral. It must have been inside the church. By the way, the current president of France, Emmanuel Macron, was himself  born in Amiens, in 1977.

23 July 2020

Haut-relief polychrome sculptures in the Amiens cathedral*

La cathédrale d'Amiens abrite deux magnifiques suites sculptées en haut-relief 
dans chacun des bras du transept. Ce sont des monuments funéraires.

Le premier haut-relief, «Le Temple de Jérusalem», est une suite de quatre niches illustrant
une action qui prend place dans une partie du temple.
Dans les deux premières niches, Jésus chasse les marchandsdu temple.
Dans la troisième niche, la table des pains évoque l'eucharistie.
Dans la dernière niche, le grand prêtre encense le tabernacle.

Le deuxième haut-relief, qui relate la légende de saint Jacques le Majeur et du magicien Hermogène,
est un don du chanoine Guillaume aux Cousteaux, mort en 1511.

Just above is a view of part of the second haut-relief in a slightly different light.

*The text in French in this post is my adaptation of text I found on a French web site
that includes many beautiful close-ups of these hauts-reliefs.
The three images in this post are from photos that I took on July 21, 2010.

22 July 2020

La façade sud de la cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens

On the south-facing façade of the transept of the cathédrale Notre-Dame d'Amiens there's a portail, a portal, that seems to go by two names. It's called either the portail Saint-Honoré or the portail de la Vierge dorée ("the golden Virgin").
Here are three views of it, going from farther out to closer in.

The figures above the Virgin Mary are the twelve Apostles.
Saint Honoré, who died in about the year 400, was the seventh bishop of the city of Amiens.
He is also the patron saint of bread bakers (boulangers).

This statue of the Virgin and Child is actually a copy of the 13th-century original (photos here),
which was moved to the interior of the church in 1980.

It's this kind of statuary that was saved by sand-bagging the façades of the cathedral during the bombardments of the 1914-1918 war. These are 10-year-old photos that I took with a Panasonic Lumix DMC-ZS1 digital camera.

21 July 2020

Inside the cathedral at Amiens

Here are three large images showing part of the interior of the cathedral in Amiens. The height of the ceiling is 42.3 meters (nearly 140 feet), which is much higher than the ceiling at Notre-Dame de Paris (33.5 meters = 110 feet). The area covered by the building measures more 7,700 sq. ft. — 1.9 acres, which is more than 80,000 sq. ft.

Notre-Dame d'Amiens suffered significant damage during the First World War. The German army bombarded the town and the cathedral with mortar shells. The people of Amiens sandbagged the front of the church to try to prevent damage to all the sculpture. After the war, the stained-glass windows were dismantled and taken to Paris for restoration work. Unfortunately, an accidental fire in the Paris facility where the work was under way destroyed most of them. The cathedral made it through the Second World War unscathed.

I wish my photos gave a better idea of and feeling for how enormous the Amiens cathedral really is. In fact, it's almost twice as big as Notre-Dame de Paris. I remember the feelings I had when CHM and I were inside the cathedral ten years ago today — dizziness and exhilaration. Over the next few days, I'll be posting some more detailed photos I took there.

20 July 2020

Amiens, il y a déjà dix ans

Ten years ago this week, I was up in Picardy, north of Paris, with CHM. He wanted to take some things from his apartment in Paris to the museum in Péronne, the town his grandfather, a 19th century painter, came from. Charles-Henri Michel was born in 1817 and died in 1905. I'm going to post some photos from that trip over the next week or two.

One of the most memorable places we visited in July 2010 was the city of Amiens, which is about 70 miles north of Paris and 35 miles from the France's northern coast on the English Channel. Amiens is especially well known for its cathedral, which is one of the biggest and most beautiful in France. It was built over a period of about 70 years starting in the year 1220. The north tower, on the left, stands nearly 70 meters (about 225 feet) tall — the same height as the towers of Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris. As usual, you can click on the photos, or "unpinch" them on a tablet, to see them in more detail.

I took a lot of photos inside and from outside the cathedral. Here's one detail shot. I've got more... Walt and I were scheduled to take a trip to Amiens and the nearby Baie de Somme region this past April, but the coronavirus pandemic and French lockdown forced us to cancel. It will be a trip for another day, I hope.

19 July 2020

Sandwich buns made with winter squash pulp

I've posted about these sandwich buns before, I know, but they are so good I want to show them off again. They really are better than buns you buy at the supermarket. And when you eat them, you know you are also eating some vegetables too — either pumpkin, winter squash, or sweet potato. Buns can be called petits pains in French.

I use pumpkin or squash because we grow them in the vegetable garden. I haven't yet tried the sweet potato version of the buns. With the squashes (butternut, acorn, etc.) or pumpkin, what we do is roast them in the oven first (in wintertime), scoop out the flesh, and mash or puree it. It keeps well in plastic containers in the freezer. If you use sweet potato, you could cook it or them in the microwave.

This time I made the buns using bread flour, called "strong flour" in some anglophone countries. I think I made them earlier using cake flour made from "soft wheat" varieties, which is the flour used to make buttermilk "biscuits" in the American South. You want the cooked buns to be soft, so I'll be curious to see (or taste) the result with bread flour.

Sandwich Buns
made with pureed pumpkin or sweet potato

First make a "sponge" by combining in a large bowl:
2½ tsp. dry active yeast (10 g)
½ cup warm water (120 ml)
½ cup flour (65 g)

Let the sponge develop for 20 minutes. When it's foamy and bubbly, add to it:
1 cup lukewarm mashed sweet potato or pumpkin flesh (240 ml)
2 tsp. honey (or more to taste)
1¼ tsp. fine salt
1 large egg
3 Tbsp. vegetable oil or melted butter
½ to 4 cups flour (450 to 500 g) as needed to form a nice ball of dough

Don't add all the flour to the sponge at once. Whether you are kneading the dough by hand or using a stand mixer, add a good amount of flour to start and then gradually add the rest, as much as it takes, to make a ball of dough that is soft and just slightly sticky. Let the dough rise, covered, in a lightly oiled bowl in a warm place until it doubles in volume. It might take as much as two hours. (I've had good luck putting a bowl of boiling water in the oven with the bowl of dough and letting the dough rise. Don't turn on the oven yet, of course.)

Then "deflate" the dough by punching it down. Knead it by hand for a minute or two on a lightly floured work surface. Using your hands, flatten the dough on the floured surface so that it's less than an inch thick. With a 4-inch (10 cm) biscuit or cookie cutter (un emporte-pièce) cut out rounds of dough — the dough I made yesterday gave me nine big sandwich buns, as you can see.

Place the rounds of dough on a baking sheet so that they are touching each other. Let them rise again in a warm place so that they more or less double in size (another 40 minutes or so). They'll continue rising when you put them in a hot oven to cook.

Bake the buns at 400ºF (200ºC) for 10 to 15 minutes, or until lightly browned. When you take them out of the oven, cover them with a kitchen towel and let them cool completely. They should be soft and pillowy. Make them ahead of time and store the ones you have left over in plastic bags in the freezer if you're not eating them right away.

This is a set of emporte-pièces that we use. I think we'd call them cookie cutters in the U.S. You can use them to cut pastry into rounds that have either a plain or fluted edge. The largest cutter, which is the one I used, is about 10 cm or four inches in diameter.

18 July 2020


The comedian George Carlin famously talked about how much we become slaves to our stuff as we get older. One of our projects this summer is to empty out the garage and our closets and wardrobes to take stock and, especially, to clean out. We've just got too much stuff.

We've got all this stuff ready to load into the Citroën and haul away. A dozen or so sweaters. As many shirts, some never worn. Walt's old business suits from his working days in San Francisco. Books. CDs and DVDs. Three toilet seats! Two pressure cookers. Coffee pots. Full sets of dishes. A set of green glassware that was my mother's but that Walt and I have never used and never will use. My bicycle. I'll never use that again either.

We'll be driving over to the town of Romorantin this coming week to donate all this and more to the Emmaüs charity shop over there. Emmaüs, pronounced [ay-mah-'yooss], is an organization that gives used items a second life. Members of the Emmaüs association refurbish, repair, and then sell items that we don't need any more but which are still completely serviceable.

This is just a first load of things we want to donate. I remember helping my mother go through this same process 15 years ago, when she sold the house she lived in for 54 years and moved into an apartment. Now it's my turn. Walt and I aren't moving. We're staying put, but we'll feel better after a good clear-out. We're lucky enough to no longer need so much useful stuff.

17 July 2020

Beans and bread

American friends of ours, K & J — they live just five miles upriver, on the other side of St-Aignan from where we live — have a fantastic vegetable garden. It's not only well laid out and tended to, but it's very productive. They have a lot of green beans right now, and they brought us a few pounds of haricots verts this week. I cooked them in a steamer pot and froze more than half of them. I made the ones we ate fresh into haricots verts à l'italienne (recipe), one of my favorite green bean recipes. It's green beans cooked in tomato sauce flavored with onion, garlic, herbs, and olive oil.

There's a good recipe for beans prepared and served this way in The Classic Italian Cookbook (p. 362) by Marcella Hazan.
I normally use this French recipe and it's good with any type of green beans.

I also made another loaf of sandwich bread yesterday. The dough had been in the freezer for a few weeks. It rose beautifully, doubling in volume and becoming foamy and light. I baked it in the Pullman pan I bought a while back. It's a metal loaf pan with a slide-on lid and a non-stick (anti-adhésif) coating on the inside.

Today we'll make croque-monsieur sandwiches (link) with a few slices of this bread. Those are toasted ham and cheese sandwiches that you eat with a knife and fork, and they are staple of French café food.