30 April 2021

Found in the freezer: radish-leaf soup

Another thing we found in the bottom of the chest freezer was a block of radish-greens soup. It was labeled as such; otherwise we might never have figured out what it was. I had either cooked and then pureed the radish leaves, or pureed them raw and then cooked them, to make the soup. It was a potage, which is a pureed vegetable soup.

Here's the pureed radish-leaf soup after I thawed it in the microwave. I wonder if it didn't have potato in it.
Anyway, we tasted it and it was delicious, so we didn't throw it out.

Instead of eating it as soup, I decided to make a timbale or gratin out of it by adding eggs and cheese and then
baking it. After doing a lot of recipe-reading, it occurred to me that I could use the radish-leaf puree to make
a Jacques Pépin style faux soufflé. Here's a link to an old post about that easy method for making a soufflé.

We ate the radish-leaf soufflé with some Toulouse-style sausages that Walt cooked on the barbecue grill.
And the soufflé was so good that I had another little bowl of it for supper last night.

By the way, here's what our upright freezer (un congélateur-armoire) looks like. It has four slide-out drawers and
two compartments at the top that have drop-down doors on them. As we've mentioned, one great thing about
this freezer is that it is frost-free. It's capacity is about 8 ft³ (that's 222 liters — in France, the capacities
of things like ovens, refrigerators, freezers, and even car trunks ("boots") are given in liters).

As for eating radish leaves, here's what French radishes, called radis roses (pink radishes) in French, look like.
When the green leaves aren't past their prime, they are good cooked and have a peppery taste.
You can cook them in liquid or sautée them in butter or olive oil.

Yesterday, Walt brought home a beautiful bunch of radishes from the supermarket. The leaves were pristine.
I'm cooking them now. I cook them the way I would cook chard, spinach, or turnip greens, for example. Here's a link to an old post about cooking both radishes themselves and their green tops.

29 April 2021

Aller jusqu'au fond des choses...

I'm talking about that old chest freezer down in the utility room. It's what we needed to get to the bottom of. My mother gave us the freezer in 2005 as a kind of housewarming gift. She was here for three weeks, and after a few days she said: "I think you need a freezer." So we spent a few days of her visit going to a few stores to see what brands and models the professionals would recommend. All of a sudden, that freezer is 16 years old.

This photo is about five days old. We had already removed about half the contents of the freezer. We've been keeping a lot of bread in there since the village bakery ended the bread delivery service a few years ago.

One of the bags Walt found down at the bottom of the freezer held a good kilogram of quince that we had cored and cut into wedges. One thing to make with them would be jelly, but we just don't eat that much jelly. So I made the quince-equivalent of applesauce with them (compote de coings).

And with the quince compote and a handful of pecans I made a cake. I didn't purée the quince compote, I just mashed it — so there are some chunks of white quince flesh in the cake.

Another bag we found at the bottom of the freezer contained at least a kilogram of grits. If you don't know what grits are... they are a kind of polenta made with white corn. In the U.S. South, we cook and eat them the way you cook and eat oatmeal or cream of wheat. I used to bring bags of grits back from N.C. when I'd go there annually to see my family, and I'm sure these grits are pretty old, but I cooked some the other day and they're good.

Close to the grits in the bottom of the freezer were two bags of corn meal. You might call it corn "semolina" (semoule de maïs in French. I see baked cornbread (leavened with baking powder, not yeast) and fried cornbread ("hushpuppies") in the near future. Both bags of corn meal, one white and one yellow, had been imported from Italy. I'm not sure when or where we bought them, but it was somewhere here in France.

Here's the 16-year-old chest freezer. Behind it on the right is the upright freezer that we bought in 2017. Behind it on the left is the boiler, which heats water for the radiators all around the house. The idea was that we would empty out and "de-commission" the older freezer. We set it here "temporarily" while we worked on emptying it out, but somehow it kept filling up over and over again. The danger is that it might suddenly give up the ghost one day, and then what would we do with all the stuff in it?

28 April 2021

New growth

I'm seeing a lot more new growth on the vines out in the vineyard now. I was surprised a couple of weeks ago, when the morning temperatures were at or even below freezing, that the people who own and tend the vineyard didn't set out bougies anti-gel (smudge pots) or burn bales of straw around the edges of the vulnerable vineyard parcels to ward off the cold. I understand now that their strategy must have been to let this year's first set of leaf buds freeze because it was early in the season and the grapevines would have time to start over again. And they have. Here are some close-ups of the new leaves that have appeared on the vines.

Unfortunately, weather forecasts for the next 10 days call for morning lows in the mid-30s F (as low as 3ºC) and chilly afternoons... We won't be taking our tomato and zucchini seedlings out of the greenhouse for a while yet. I might get my kale planted, though. Kale isn't much bothered by cold weather.

27 April 2021

La glycine — et « Les glycines » de Serge Lama

Wisteria is called glycine in French. The term "wisteria" comes from the name of a Philadelphia dentist, Caspar Wistar (1761-1818), who later in life was an anatomist at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a friend of Thomas Jefferson's and at one point was the president of the Society for the Abolition of Slavery. The simple reason why we write and say "wisteria" instead of "wistaria" is a printer's typo that was never corrected.

The wisteria plant is native to Asia (China, Japan) and North America.

We planted this glycine at least a dozen years ago.

The French name for the plant, glycine, comes from ancient Greek and means "sweet" or "syrupy",
because the plant's sap is sugary and sticky.

A few years after we planted it, our glycine crashed to the ground one night during a windy, rainy storm.
The supports it climbed on weren't sturdy enough to hold its weight.

We managed to trim the plant, put up new support brackets and wires, and mount the plant back up on the wall.

I first learned the French word glycine in the 1970s from a popular song recorded by a man named Serge Lama.
You can listen to it here, in a live performance, or here, as it was recorded and played on the radio.
We attended a concert given by Serge Lama in April 2002 at the Olympia theatre in Paris.
His most famous song is titled Je suis malade (live or recorded version).
Lama is now 78 years old. I believe he wrote the lyrics for both songs.

26 April 2021

Late April 2021 iris close-ups

A small set of iris photos...

I took some of these photos with a Sony camera and others with a Panasonic Lumix camera. And this is the second version of this post, in case you looked in earlier... no, you're not imagining things.

25 April 2021

Il y a 18 ans déjà...

Eighteen years ago Walt and I became the owners of the house outside Saint-Aignan that we now live in. We had first seen it in December 2002, and I had come back in February 2003 to make some final arrangements for the closing (they called it les signatures). We were still living in Calfornia. Instead of flying back to France a third time in less than six months, we went to the French consulate in San Francisco and signed a power of attorney (une procuration) authorizing the French notary handling the transfer to sign for us.

This is our back yard and house in Saint-Aignan.

Here's a view of the house from out in the vineyard. It's the one on the left. Look how much taller the cedar tree on the left is compared to the fir tree on the right.

You can just barely see the roof of the house from this point in the vineyard out back.

The signatures took place on April 24, 2003, while we were still in California. We had already sent the money to pay for the house, but we couldn't move to France until our long-stay visas came through. That happened in late May, and we immediately bought plane tickets for a June 1 departure date. That day was the 20th anniversary of our life together as a couple. As a same-sex couple, we weren't allowed to get married until 2012.

I've now lived in this house longer than any other place I've ever lived. I lived at my parents' house in North Carolina from 1951 until 1967. Then I lived in a lot of apartments in N.C., Illinois, France, and Calfiornia (1967 until 1995). In 1995, Walt and I bought a house in San Francisco and lived there for eight years until we sold it in 2003 in order to buy a house in France. (That little purple spot on the photo above is the little plum tree that I planted in 2010, near our garden shed.)

Here's the front of the house, with the red maples planted in front just now leafing out. We've made a lot of changes in 18 years, painting every room, having many new windows put in, and having the unfinished attic space converted into a big room we call the loft, nearly doubling our living space.

 I know Walt posted a photo like this one yesterday, but I couldn't resist posting the one I took as well. 

24 April 2021

The spring 2021 chard crop

I I tilled up the vegetable garden plot yesterday, and there was one nice side benefit. Five or six Swiss chard plants were still growing out there. Most of them were red-ribbed chard, and they were a gift last summer from a friend who lives a few miles upriver from us. They were volunteers that came back up spontaneously in her 2020 vegetable garden.

We were glad to get them, and I was waiting for them to grow bigger before I harvested them. Well, they never grew a lot bigger than they were last summer. Anyway, I pulled them up, sorted, washed, and trimmed the leaves, and then cooked them. It was yesterday or never...

Pretty leaves... these are just a few of the prettiest.

After the trimming and washing, I cooked the chard leaves in water with just salt and pepper.

The green parts of the leaves along with the leaf ribs went in the pot together.

After the leaves and ribs were tender, I cut them up with a pair of kitchen scissors. Then, to "season" them, I dropped in a lump of rendered duck fat (which I just happened to have in the refrigerator) and let it melt. We'll be eating some of the chard today, with black beans, rice, and barbecued pork tenderloin.

23 April 2021

A look around the back yard

Yesterday I decided that today would be the day that would finally see me tackle the vegetable garden. The ground is dry, temperatures are mild, and I'll need to till up the soil in the garden plot twice — once now, and again in three or four weeks before we set out seedlings and kick off the growing season. We've decided to have a smaller garden this year, because we are de-commissioning one of our three freezers. That means fewer tomato and zucchini plants, along with some kale and maybe chard if we can get it growing.

Because recent summers have been so dry, we've invested in soaker hoses this year to make watering easier and more effective. As you can see, the ground is extremely dry right now. On the radio yesterday while I was driving to the supermarket, I heard a report about drought conditions in France right now. The reporter said the the area worst affected is the Loire Valley from Orléans west to Nantes and the coast. That includes Saint-Aignan.

Here's "old faithful" — the artichoke plant we put in the ground a decade ago or more. It's basically decorative, because we don't harvest the artichokes that grow on it over the summer.

And here's my plum tree. I grew it in a big pot from pits I saved when we picked and cooked plums from our neighbors' trees. I planted it in the ground more than ten years ago. Here's a post about the tree from 2010. It was really covered in blossoms about a month ago — it flowers early in the season — so I think we might get a lot of plums this year, unless the birds get them first.

We have a lot of irises in different spots around the yard. A project for this summer is to dig up some of the bulbs and plant them under the edge of the hedge out along the road. I see them growing like that in several yards around Saint-Aignan. They look really good.

This is a lilac bush that Walt planted in the back yard, close to the house, many years ago. It's got a lot of flowers on it this year. It also comes into flower early in the season. Some of these "newer" plants are especially welcome now, since we've had more than half a dozen trees and shrubs die off over the past couple of years.

I'm seeing more and more new growth on the grapevines in the vineyard out back, now that the weather has finally warmed up. I think the recent freezing mornings came early enough in the season for the vines to be able to recover and start putting out new growth for a second time. We'll see if that's the case...

22 April 2021

Fleurs de pommiers

Not far from the Chardonnay vines I blogged about yesterday, I came upon a little apple tree that was covered in blossoms. Apple trees bloom a little later than other fruit trees, and now that the weather has warmed up this tree should produce a good crop. The people who own the land it grows on live in Brittany and haven't been here in more than a year, so I guess we'll get some apples in autumn. Here are the photos, as well as a few quotes and a proverb about pommiers (apple trees) that I found on the internet.

Demander des oranges aux pommiers est une maladie commune. (Gustave Flaubert)

Si on veut des pommes, il faut secouer le pommier. (proverbe bulgare)

Si l'on m'apprenait que la fin du monde est pour demain, je planterais quand même un pommier. (Martin Luther)

The two small trees on the left in this photo are apple trees (in front of the big cedar) and at least one of them is in bloom.

Ce n'est pas parce que je suis un vieux pommier que je donne de vieilles pommes. (Felix Leclerc)

Unfortunately, two of the four apple trees that we used to have in our yard, along with a pear tree, have died over the past couple of years. On a cheerier note, yesterday morning when I was out walking with the dog, I noticed quite a bit of new growth on the vines in a parcel that is planted in Chenin Blanc grapes.