02 October 2022

Almost 20 years ago

We moved to Saint-Aignan in 2003. These are some photos of the house and yard that I took in 2004, showing what the house and yard looked like back then. It was the first vegetable garden we planted here, and it was very green and productive.




01 October 2022

Another year, another storm

I got a cryptic message from my sister this morning. As I've mentioned before, she and our closest cousin do volunteer work at a food mission in our home town, Morehead City in North Carolina. Here's the text of the message:

“Stuck at mission. Water almost to building.”

She sent it at 6:53 p.m. yesterday. It's true that the building the mission operates out of is on very low ground on the edge of a bay. I feel sure there was no imminent danger, because the eye of Hurricane Ian ended up making landfall yesterday afternoon 280 kilometers (175 miles) to the southwest, on the South Carolina coast. I'm waiting for more news.


I took this picture of storm clouds approaching Morehead from the southwest in October 2006.

30 September 2022

Just four years ago

Hurricane Ian is aimed at the Carolina coast this morning. The storm seems now to be taking a turn toward the north and moving more and more toward the NC coast rather than toward Charleston SC. It was only four years ago that the same area, between Charleston and Morehead City NC (my home town) was devastated by a hurricane called Florence. Flooding was widespread and disastrous. Until recently, people there were still trying to repair the damage Florence caused.


The spectacular picture above was taken in September 2018 by a photographer named Travis Long for the Raleigh News & Observer newspaper. This is the Oceanana fishing pier on the barrier island across Bogue Sound from downtown Morehead, during Hurricane Florence. The end of the pier washed away in that storm.

This is one of my photos of the Oceanana fishing pier. I took it on a stormy day a few years ago. I imagine this is what it will look like there today.

This morning I'm glued to CNN watching the reports from Florida and now awaiting reports from the Carolinas. I'm especially worried about family and friends in NC, and about a friend who lives in Naples FL. She and I became friends in California and worked together in Silicon Valley from 1989 until 1995. I hope she's okay. I hope her house has survived the storm.

29 September 2022

Un accident est si vite arrivé...

I wounded myself with a vegetable peeler yesteday morning. I was trying to peel a big round pear when I lost control of the peeler and sliced off part of the tip of the little finger on my left hand. There was a lot of blood. When it hadn't stopped bleeding after 20 minutes or so, I told Walt I thought it would be a good idea for him to take me to the pharmacy. Maybe somebody there could stop the bleeding and bandage the wound.

And that's what we did. There's no emergency room at the hospital in Saint-Aignan. Mr Martineau, the owner of the pharmacy and a former mayor of Saint-Aignan, got the bleeding stopped after a few minutes, and with the assistance of one of his employees applied an effective bandage. There was no charge for the service. I've been a customer there for nearly 20 years now.

I have managed to type this post, but it hasn't been easy. I may have to curtail my blogging for a few days. This morning I'll need to change the bandage. Walt will help me. Wish us luck.

28 September 2022

Okra and tomatoes + corn

On the way back home from my eye appointment on Monday, I stopped at the Grand Frais produce market just south of Blois and bought fresh okra and fresh tomatoes. I already had a quantity of blanched okra pods in the freezer, but I couldn't resist buyingsome more. So I started nosing around on the 'net for okra and tomatoes recipes. There were also eight or nine small cans of corn kernels in the pantry, so I searched for "okra tomatoes corn recipe" on Google.


What I found was a Betty Crocker recipe from a collection called Betty's Soul Food. Here's a link. The recipe calls for canned corn, which I had, but also for canned tomatoes and frozen okra. As I've said, I had fresh okra and fresh tomatoes so I used those. I figured that was an improvement that would give a tastier result.

    
I also used shallots that I bought at Grand Frais, and three cloves of garlic instead of garlic powder. And I decided to substitute French saucisse de Toulouse, a plain pork sausage, for bacon. I cooked the sausage first and then cut it into rounds, discarding most of the fat it released. Then I cooked the aromatics and corn together, adding a sliced celery stalk.

Finally, in went the tomatoes (diced) and okra (sliced) with about half a cup of water. As soon as the okra was tender, it was ready. Inspired by the recipe below, which I had in my recipe database, I seasoned the dish with hot red pepper flakes (to taste) and added some sliced red bell pepper. We enjoyed it for lunch, seasoned with "Louisiana's Pure Crystal Hot Sauce" at the table (Tabasco or Portuguese Piri Piri are good substitutes). Here's the recipe for that spicy version of okra and tomatoes.

Creole Okra & Tomatoes

3 Tbsp. unsalted butter, lard or bacon drippings
¼ cup lardons (bacon), finely chopped
1 cup Spanish onion, chopped
2 Tbsp. garlic, minced
4 Tbsp. hot peppers, minced
3 cups fresh okra, washed, trimmed, and sliced
2 cups ripe tomatoes, chopped
2 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped
2 tsp. fresh basil, chopped
2 tsp. green onions, thinly sliced
Salt, black pepper, and cayenne pepper
Crystal Hot Sauce to taste at the table

Melt the butter and saute the lardons (bacon) in a stainless steel pot until lightly browned. Add the onions, garlic and peppers, and season with a little salt. Sweat until the onions are translucent.

Add the okra, season again with a little salt, and cook until the okra ceases to rope, which means that you don’t see threads when you stir the pot.

Add the tomatoes and thyme, plus a little more salt to make the tomatoes break down.

When the tomatoes break down and reduce slightly add the basil, green onions, and salt, pepper and hot sauce to taste. Serve as a side dish or over rice.



Okra is a vegetable that some people either love to death while others find it completely disgusting. All I can say is that I love it, and my okra, tomatoes, and corn recipe was not slimy. By the way, it occurs to me that this recipe would be really good made with wide, flat romano green beans (cocos plats in French) instead of okra. Serve it with pasta, polenta, or steamed rice.

27 September 2022

Grapes, traffic, and eye developments

The heat came on this morning, with the thermostat set at 18.5ºC — that's 65.3ºF. The temperature outside is 10.5ºC, and that's warmer than on a lot of recent mornings. The heating season has begun. We've got more than two thousand liters of fuel oil in our underground tank, and we've got a cord of firewood stacked in places that are protected from the rain. We had a couple of hours of steady rain yesterday afternoon. Thank the clouds! Tasha and I went out in it for our afternoon walk.

    

    

I had a good drive up to Blois yesterday morning. The roads were dry, not slippery. A lot of big-rig trucks were out slowing traffic down. On the local roads, narrow and curvy, you can't really get around them. They are especially slow going through the villages — five of them in all — because of speed bumps (also called gendarmes couchés) installed to slow car traffic down. The appointment with the eye doctor went smoothly, except for one thing: I have a cataract forming in my right eye. There's nothing to do right now, the doctor said. Come back in a year and we'll see if it's getting bigger or not.

26 September 2022

Off to Blois again

    
Nearly all the grapes in the Renaudière vineyard around us have been harvested now. Most are machine-harvested, but a few plots are hand-harvested. Some grapes that were still on the vines this past weekend are these blue ones. I think they're about the prettiest grapes in the vineyard.

These are grapes that have been sacrificed and left to rot on the ground. I don't know why.

    
I'll be hitting the road for my drive to Blois, the closest big town in the area, less than two hours from now. The reason for the trip is a good one: I have an appointment with an ophthalmologist (ophtalmologue [uhf-tal-mo-luhg] in French). I need to see if my prescription needs to be changed, and I haven't been tested for glaucoma or cataracts in a decade or more. Until now, it had always taken a year to get an appointment with an eye doctor (except for emergencies), but a new practice was opened in Blois recently. I made an appointment just three weeks ago.

25 September 2022

News of Natasha

April 2021

It's time to declare 'Tasha completely recovered from her accident last January. She has no limp at all — the veterinary surgeon did a good job. The only thing different in her behavior is that she is not at all interested in going up or down the narrow, steep wooden staircase that leads up to the loft. Walt got her groomed last week and posted some photos. Then he took her to the veterinary clinic to get her weighed. She has lost a lot of weight during her recovery. She now weighs in at just less than 11 kilos — about 24 lbs.

July 2022

24 September 2022

Troglodytes (2)

Poking around in my photos database, I came across two more pictures like yesterday's. I just read on Wikipédia.fr that there are approximately 25,000 habitations trolodytiques in France. There are even villages troglodytiques in many French regions, including the Loire Valley.

    

Troglodyte houses can be fairly elaborate, like the two in my photos below. The one on the left is in Bourré. The one on the right with the satellite dish is in Amboise. I've only been inside one such house, in Vouvray. It wasn't beautiful inside, but it looked like it was fairly comfortable.

    

23 September 2022

Troglodytes (1)

The Cher river valley is known for its maisons troglodytiques — houses built into hillsides or cliff faces.

Maisons troglodytiques in Bourré, between Saint-Aignan and Montrichard

The Cher river at Bourré, in December

22 September 2022

Wrapping it up

I'm posting the last of my aerial landscape photos, at least for now. I have others, taken on other flights...

    

    

    

I didn't mean to be mysterious about my drives to Blois day before yesterday. Walt needed to have some medical tests done up there. They were routine, and scheduled a while back. One of the restrictions the doctor imposed was that he not drive for the rest of the day after the tests. So I needed to drive him up there and then go pick him up again. Everything is fine. The biggest surprise was the timing: they told him the afternoon before that he needed to be at the clinic by 7:30 a.m. Since it's about an hour's drive, we needed to be on the road by 6:30. It all went smoothly.

21 September 2022

Continuing the series

All went well yesterday. We left home just after 6 a.m. and arrived in Blois at 7. It was dark and neither one of us likes to drive at night any more. To get to Blois, we drove through five villages (or small towns) — Noyers-sur-Cher, Saint-Romain-sur-Cher, Couddes, Contres, and Cormoray — that have 30 mph speed limits, or even 20 mph. Then, just south of Blois, we drove on a stretch of four-lane highway with a speed limit of about 70 mph. Then we crossed the Loire and drove in heavier traffic around the eastern edge of Blois to our destination. The whole trip was 46 kilometers — less than 30 miles — but took nearly an hour.

    
I left Walt in Blois and drove back on a different route that takes a little longer — 57 kilometers = 35 miles. That took more than an hour. But by then the sun was coming up and I didn't get lost, despite the fact that my last drive to Blois dates back three years or more, and the memory ain't what it used to be. The roads are narrow and winding, with little signage, but again traffic was light and my memory of the route served me well. I had Natasha in the car with me to keep me company.

    
The fact is that major work is being done on the east-west railway line just north of Saint-Aignan and we had to plan our routes accordingly. We needed to avoid grade crossings, some of which are closed for several hours every day. It's hard to know which ones or when.

    
I had to go back to Blois later in the day, to pick Walt up and bring him home. And I have to go back to Blois next Monday, unfortunately. Wild times.

P.S. The photos here are more of the ones I took from a plane while flying over the U.S. southwest 20 years ago.

20 September 2022

Landscapes from above

I have to drive up to Blois this morning and get there by 7:30, so I don't have time to write anything...
See yesterday's post for details and context re: these photos.

    

    

    

19 September 2022

Memories of flying high

As I wrote yesterday, where to now? Today I thought I might go up in the air and post some more of the photos I used to take out of the window of a plane when I was flying back and forth between California and North Carolina. I think we were over Nevada when I took these, but I can't be sure. I was lucky to have a good camera and a nice clear window. Not to mention clear skies.

    

    

    

Good news from California. The area northeast of Sacramento that was burning is getting rained on right now. Temperatures that were in the 100 to 110ºF range are now in the upper 70s in the afternoon. Here in Saint-Aignan we've gone back into a dry spell. I'm hoping that it won't last too long and that the rains will return soon.