31 March 2022

Looking forward

These are some colorful food photos that I took nearly 9 years ago, in July 2013, while walking through the Saxe-Breteuil open-air market in Paris. The market sets up a couple of times a week on the avenue de Saxe, not far from the Eiffel Tower. I'm looking forward to summer by looking backward in time. Summery thoughts are important right now. We had very little summery weather in 2021. Vegetable gardens were miserable and the plants had to be pulled out well before the normal growing season was over. We're hoping for greater success in 2022.


Yesterday was a drizzly day in Saint-Aignan. We've had some decent weather over the past three weeks, and as a result a lot of fruit trees have already blossomed. Now we're going into a cold spell, with light snow predicted for tonight and tomorrow and freezing temperatures at least in the early morning hours over the weekend.


Yesterday I had to go to see my dentist down in Luçay-le-Mâle, 30 minutes south of Saint-Aignan. On the way back home, I drove through a giboulée, which is a very hard shower of cold rain. There was very little traffic, and even though visibility was poor, I just drove slowly on narrow, winding roads through the green countryside and I made it home fine.

Some good news: Over the past week, Tasha the Sheltie has made great progress in her recovery from the knee surgery she had in January. She is now able to go downstairs under own power and come back upstairs from our entry hall at ground level up to the living room. She's got a spring in her step that was missing for a couple of months, and she seems to enjoy our walks again. The recovery is far from complete — Walt still carries her up the steep and narrow wooden stairs up to the loft in the evening and back downstairs in the morning —  but we're feeling more optimistic about her prospects.

30 March 2022

Mono Lake

Just 15 miles south of the ghost town called Bodie — but a two-hour drive on winding mountain roads — there's a large body of water called Mono Lake (70 mi², 180 km²). The name is pronounced as [MOH-noh]. It's more than 150 feet deep at its deepest point. The only "outlet" for water that flows into Mono Lake is evaporation. It's a great salt lake with no outflow. Limestone columns called tufa towers are one of its most striking features. Life in the lake's waters is limited to brine shrimp and alkali flies. Migrating birds feed on those. Here's a brief slideshow about the lake.

Mono Lake is a beautiful but remarkably stark place. The surface of the lake is at more than
six thousand feet (nearly two thousand meters) above sea level.
You can read more about it here.

29 March 2022

A Real Ghost Town in California

Here's how the Wikipedia article about this abandoned 19th century town says: Bodie, pronounced [BOH-dee], is a California ghost town in the Bodie Hills, east of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, about 75 miles (121 km) southeast of Lake Tahoe at an elevation of 8,379 feet (2554 meters). It was a boom town by 1876 after the discovery of a profitable seam of gold nearby, and by 1879 it had a population of seven to ten thousand. Bodie is a seven or eight hour drive north of Los Angeles, and about the same distance east of San Francisco.

Bodie went into decline in the subsequent decades and came to be described as a ghost town as early as 1915. The U.S. Department of the Interior recognizes the designated Bodie Historic District as a National Historic Landmark. Also registered as a California Historical Landmark, the ghost town officially was established as Bodie State Historic Park in 1962. It receives about 200,000 visitors yearly.

28 March 2022

La Dauphine du désert

In 2002, when Walt and I went to Death Valley again after our 1999 trip, we drove through the little settlement called Darwin, population less than 50. I was surprised to see the épave (wreck) of an old Renault Dauphine car on the side of the road. Maybe you remember the Dauphine. It was built by the French car company Renault from 1956 until 1967. The Dauphine was sold in the U.S. back then, and I remember seeing them on the road in North Carolina. The car wasn't a success in the U.S. because of quality issues and a scarcity of spare parts. I have no idea how this one ended up in Darwin, which is at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet about a two-hour drive west of Death Valley.

27 March 2022

Driving across Nevada

This was part of our drive across the U.S. state of Nevada, going west to east. I took these photos between 11:20 a.m. and 2:20 p.m. on a day in October. They're in chronological order. Nevada is basically a vast desert (284,378 km², 110,0000 mi²). We were on our way from San Francisco in California to Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks in Utah. California is about 50% bigger than Nevada in area, but it has nearly 15 times the population.







26 March 2022

A Zion National Park slideshow

It was in April of 1998 that Sue and I were in Zion National Park in southwestern Utah. We were both taking photos with film cameras back then, and with a video camera too. My still photos were lost when the camera shop where I left them for development accidentally ruined the rolls of film. Afterwards, Sue sent me the negatives of her photos, and I scanned them. I had forgotten about them until a few days ago when I came across them on my computer's hard disk. Here's a two-minute slideshow.

I've been taking a few days off from posting about France since I found these and other photos Sue, Walt, and I took in California, Nevada, and Utah beack in the 1990s and early 2000s. I'll get back to France soon... well, actually I am in France now, and I guess I'm feeling a little homesick for the U.S.

25 March 2022

Zion National Park, Utah — Sue's photos

In April 1998, I went to Zion National Park for the first time. I was not working at the time, but taking a year off. Sue in California — one of Walt's and my best friends — and I decided to drive to Utah to see both the Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. We ended up not being able to go to Bryce Canyon, because a storm front moved over, dropping snow that closed all the roads between Zion and Bryce. We took a lot of photos in Zion, despite the bad weather. The ones I'm posting here are Sue's pictures. I don't think she'll mind if I post them.


The fact is, my Zion photos were destroyed in a film developing shop. Sue and I were both using film cameras back then. We didn't take our film to the same shop for developing. My photos included all the ones I took at Zion and at Death Valley that year. I took them to the shop, waited nearly a week, and then went back to pick them up. The man at the shop apologized and said his machine had "eaten" all my rolls of film. I didn't hide my disappointment. I told the man that I had driven nearly 2,000 miles through wind, rain, and snow to take all those pictures. He replied that he would gladly give me some new rolls of film to replace the ones his machine had chewed up.

Actually, I didn't remember that I had copies of Sue's Zion photos. I just found them this morning. Sue and I first met in 1975 in Paris. She was visiting her cousin Cheryl, who was a friend of mine and a fellow grad student at the U. of Illinois. The next time I saw Sue was in California in 1987, when Walt and I moved out there from Washington DC. That's when Walt met her. She has visited us here in Saint-Aignan at least three times since 2003. Before that, we three spent time in Paris, Vouvray, and Provence together, and a lot of time in California. I hope she'll have a chance to come back to the Loire Valley one day. The last time we saw her was in 2018.

One day soon, I'm going to start posting about France again. That's a promise. But this change of scenery
to places in America has been therapeutic for me.

24 March 2022

Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is in the southwestern part of the U.S. state of Utah, whose capital is Salt Lake City. As Wikipedia points out, "canyon" is actually a misnomer. There is no canyon in the park; instead, the park is "a collection of giant natural amphitheaters along the eastern side of the Paunsaugunt Plateau. Bryce is distinctive due to geological structures called hoodoos, formed by frost weathering and stream erosion of the river and lake bed sedimentary rocks. The red, orange, and white colors of the rocks provide spectacular views for park visitors."

The national park called Bryce Canyon covers an area of 141 km² (56 m²) and receives more than two million visitors annually. It's at a high elevation, with a rim that varies from 8,000 to 9,000 feet (2,400 to 2,700 meters) in altitude.
(All these photos can be enlarged.)

In 1998, I went to Utah with our friend Sue to see Bryce Canyon park and nearby Zion National Park. We were there in the month of April. The weather turned snowy. It wasn't too bad in Zion park, which is at a much lower elevation. The roads up to Bryce Canyon park were officially closed, however. It was a disappointment. In October 1999, Walt and I drove to Utah and were able to spend time and take photos in both of the parks. Bryce Canyon park is 900 kilometers (600 miles) east of San Francisco.

A funny thing that happened when we were there had to do with our dog Collette, who was traveling with us. We had read about a short hiking trail that led out to an overlook point with spectacular views of the hoodoos below. We parked there but then saw a sign that dogs were not allowed on the trail. So I walked out by myself to take some photos. When I got to the overlook, there were two people there, a man and a woman, admiring the views. When they saw me, they tried to ask if would be willing to take photo of them with their camera, with the view behind them.

Their English was fairly rudimentary and I recognized their accent. They were French. Mais bien sûr, I told them. Then we chatted for a few minutes in French while I took pictures for me and Walt. They were pretty surprised to meet somebody who spoke French in such a remote location, so many light years from France.

23 March 2022

La Vallée de la Mort

Back in the 1990s when we lived in San Francisco, we went on many camping trips to places including Yosemite National Park, Death Valley, and many places along the California coast. Walt had a Jeep that was a good vehicle for such trips. We slept in a tent. The dog went with us. Here are some photos I took on two different camping trips to Death Valley, in 1999 and again in 2002. (All these photos can be enlarged.)

            These first four photos are general views of driving into and arriving in Death Valley, which is actually 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. In summertime you can't really enjoy going camping there, because the average high temperature on summer days is blistering hot. In the summer of 2001, the temperature hit at least 100ºF on 154 days. The highest temperature ever recorded at Death Valley was 134ºF (59.6ºC) in 1913.

            We only went to Death Valley in April and in October. You also have to be careful going there in wintertime because snowstorms can make traveling over the mountain that surround the valley very hazardous. You can see Walt and his Jeep at a campsite we set up in Death Valley in 2002. Another time we were visited by a roadrunner (in French, un grand géocoucou) and we were watched from afar by a small pack of coyotes, a North American wild dog related to wolves.

            The colorful rock and sand formations in the photos above are part of an area called Painted Canyon. And the last photo in this series shows a restaurant called the Still Life Café, where we had lunch as we were leaving Death Valley. It was operated by two young Berber (Algerian) women who spoke French and made delicious French food. We really enjoyed meeting them and talking with them. I wonder if they are still there. I can't remember if I had read about the café before we went there, or if we just stumbled upon it by accident.

I was surprised to find this photo among the ones I took at Death Valley 20 or more years ago, in light of my post about Daube de veau à la niçoise yesterday. The bucket with NIÇOISE OLIVES printed on it sat on the ground at the front entrance of the Still Life Café (in Olancha, California). You can see it in the last small photo above. The women who operated the restaurant were using imported olives from Nice to dress up the delicious salads they served, I guess.

I just found an article about the Stilll Life Café here. It appears to have relocated to a bigger town, Independence, not far north of Olancha. It was struggling to survive the business downturn caused by the Covid19 pandemic in 2020.

22 March 2022

Daube de veau à la niçoise

I'm on the mailing list for a web site called La Cuisine de Jackie. Unless I'm mistaken, Jackie is a woman from Québec who lives in France. She posts recipes almost daily, and often they look really good. Her recipe for Daube de veau à la niçoise inspired me, so I made what I have always called Veau aux olives — I've made it before — following her recipe. A daube is a stew of meat and vegetables cooked à l'étouffée ("smothered"), a specialty of southern France. The best-known daube is made with beef.

This daube de veau is described as being cooked à la niçoise because one of the ingredients is black olives, which are a specialty of the city of Nice. The other ingredients, besides veal shoulder, are onions, garlic, spices, herbs, tomato, white wine, and concentrated veal stock (fond de veau, sold in France is powdered form).

We had the stew called a daube de veau with pasta. After it had cooked for about 90 minutes, I tasted the sauce and thought it needed a little sweetness, so I added about half a cup of red wine and let that cook down. That made it better.

Veal "roasts" like the one above are a standard item in our supermarkets here in Saint-Aignan. It's not a roast for cooking in the oven, but a pot roast described as à mijoter (to be braised, simmered).  Veal pot roasts are not especially expensive at about five dollars U.S. per pound. You can cook the roast whole, or you can untie it and cut it up into cubes. Sauté them in olive oil, take them out of the pan, and sauté the onions and garlic in the same pan. Add crushed tomatoes, wine, herbs, and spices. Put the veal back in and simmer the daube, covered, for two or three hours to tenderize the meat. Add the olives about 15 minutes before serving. We don't pit them before cooking them.

P.S. I just remembered and found a similar veal recipe called Aillade de veau that I posted in 2018.
It would be very good made with boneless, skinless chicken thighs.