30 April 2022

Gratin d'asperges, jambon, et pommes de terre

For lunch yesterday I made an asparagus and ham tarte (or gratin) with a potato "crust". Walt, who usually makes a pastry crust (pâte brisée) for pies like this, was busy putting up new curtains in our living room, so I stepped into the breach. He had cooked a dozen or so big white asparagus spears a day or two earlier and put them in the refrigerator. We had ham, cream, cheese, and what was left of a bag of nice locally grown potatoes.

     After peeling the potatoes and cooking them in a steamer pot, I cut them into fairly thick slices. Then I lined
the bottom and sides of a buttered baking dish with them. Over them I poured a custard mixture of
cream, eggs, and grated cheese, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a pinch of grated nutmeg.

Then I rolled bundles of cooked white asparagus spears (a local specialty) in slices of cooked ham. You can use either "sandwich" ham (jambon de Paris) or proscuitto-style air-cured ham (jambon sec) for a dish like this. You could make it with green aspargus, of course, if that's what you prefer.

     Arrange the ham-wrapped bundles on top of the custard mixture in a the baking dish and sprinkle grated Parmesan
or Romano cheese over them. Cook the gratin in a hot oven for about half an hour until the custard is cooked
and the grated cheese on top starts to brown. Serve hot — one bundle per person.

29 April 2022

Reims : la cathédrale vue de loin

Reims et sa cathédrale en octobre 2000

28 April 2022

Reims : mes dernières photos de la cathédrale Notre-Dame




P.S. We took delivery of our new motobineuse (rototiller) yesterday afternoon. It's a much lighter-weight machine than the one we had to get rid of last week. Well see if it can do the job. I'm sure it will be easier for us to haul around. So now it's really time to start working on the vegetable garden plot, which might be smaller than in past years.

27 April 2022

Reims : vitraux de Chagall

Much of the stained glass in the cathedral at Reims dates back only to the years between 1930 and the present. That's because about half of the older windows in the cathedral were destroyed during World War I, when the building's wooden roof structure was destroyed by fire (as was the roof at Notre-Dame de Paris in 2019). The roof at Reims had already burned once before, in the 15th century. After WWI, a concrete roof structure replaced the wooden beams that had burned.

The Russian-born artist Marc Chagall created a series of windows for the cathédrale de Reims
in the 1960s and 1970s. Four of them are in my photos above. The second and third images
are closer views of sections of the triptych above.

26 April 2022

Reims : des vitraux et un aigle...

... à l'intérieur de la cathédrale Notre-Dame... de Reims.




25 April 2022

Reims : statuary and scale

A few weeks ago I was already planning to post some of the pictures that I took in Reims (Champagne) in 2011, but I had sort of burned out on church pictures. I'm glad to come back to them now, because they are better than I had thought they were. La cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims is known for its elaborate statuary. Here are some examples.

There are more than 2300 statues on the west front of the cathedral.
They were sculpted between the years 1250 and 1275.

The bell towers of Reims cathdral are taller, at 81.5 meters,
than the towers of Notre-Dame de Paris (69 meters).

In the photos of the west front here, the people in front of the building
give you a sense of its scale.

24 April 2022

Going to Reims in 1972 and flying in a Citroën

        Construction of the Gothic cathédrale Notre-Dame de Reims (the city's name is Rheims in English) began in the year 1210 continued for about a century. It's not as old as Notre-Dame de Paris or Notre-Dame de Chartres, but it's older than Notre-Dame d'Amiens and Notre-Dame de Strasbourg. Nearly all the kings of France over the centuries were coronated in this building. Reims is the major city in the historical province of Champagne in northeastern France.

The first time I ever went to Reims was at Christmastime in 1972. The mother (named Jeanine) of a student of mine in Rouen in Normandy, where I was teaching, invited me to go with her and her two younger children to spend a few days at her mother-in-law's house Reims — the house was located on the main square in front of the cathedral. I remember things about that trip but I don't remember if we actually went inside the cathedral. I do remember the dinner cooked and served by Jeanine's mother-in-law that first evening in Reims was calves' (veal) kidneys cooked in a brown sauce (probably red wine) with pasta noodles. I had never eaten kidneys in my life, but they weren't bad.

This is what Jeanine's 1972 Citroën GS sports car looked like. She was about 40 years old back then. I was 23.

I also remember that Jeanine's car broke down somewhere out in the Champagne countryside one evening and we had to wait for a tow truck to come rescue us. How she called a tow truck I'll never know, because there were no cell phones back then of course. The breakdown turned out to be a loose wire under the hood that was repaired in just a few minutes. I also remember how Jeanine drove us back to Rouen, more than 125 miles west of Reims, on narrow country roads north of Paris. I was sitting in the back seat and I could see the car's speedometer. Jeanine didn't hesitate to get our speed up close to 120 mph (200 kph) on long stretches of road outside the main towns. It was hair-raising, but we made it back safely. There were no speed limits or seat belt laws in France back then.

23 April 2022

Pas de nouvelles...

...mauvaises nouvelles. The guy who services and repairs lawnmowers, chain saws, and rototillers at the garden center called yesterday. I'd been waiting for the call all week. He said our tiller is not worth repairing. The necessary parts and repairs would cost as much as buying a new one, and there's no guarantee that some other breakdown might again render it unusable this year or next. We bought it in the spring of 2004, after all. It's given us nearly 20 years of bons et loyaux services.

Yesterday I wrote about apples. Here's a photo of our surplus one year nearly 15 years ago...

The rototiller gets even less use than our two old cars do. The "new car" is a 2007 model, but it has only about 70K miles on the odometer. The older car will be 22 years old at the end of the year and has about 125K miles on its compteur de kilomètres. The cars get used year-round, though not much, especially these days. The tiller is a seasonal tool.

Another shot of the ornamental cherry tree in the back yard

It's used mostly in spring, for a total of 3 or 4 hours. Sometimes, weather permitting, it also gets used for a couple of hours in autumn, when we prepare the garden plot for over-wintering. I guess we'll have to buy a new one, if we are going to continue gardening. Maybe one that's not quite so heavy and hard to operate.

P.S. I just noticed that it has started raining.

22 April 2022

Looking into the apple tree, and into the future

Our days of fine weather are about to end, at least temporarily. It looks like we'll have a wet weekend, and maybe some thunder and lightning tomorrow. Then on Sunday, as rain continues, the temperature is supposed to start dropping. By Monday, instead of today's high of about 68ºF, we'll see a high temperature of 57ºF. I'm not looking forward to that, but we do need some rain.

Of the two apple trees we have left in the yard, this one produces by far the best apples. Behind the pommier, above and below, you can see the garden plot. It's not yet prepared for planting, and the tiller is in the shop for service and repairs.

Last year we had a freeze in mid-April that pretty much killed off our apple crop. This year, we've been luckier, and we're hoping to get a ton of apples for tarts, crumbles, sauce, and just eating raw.

Wish us and the pommiers bonne chance !

21 April 2022

Suddenly it's summer

It's felt like summer for a few days now. Who knows how long it will last? The trees have sprouted leaves and blossoms. The sun shines every day. The grass is mowed (thanks to Walt). The heat doesn't run all day.
This is weather you just want to enjoy. Still, there's work to be done outdoors.

Of course we're still waiting for the contractor who has promised to come this spring and renovate our front terrace
to start the job. A couple of weeks ago he said he was just waiting for the weather to dry out and warm up. Okay...

We're lucky these red maples just off the front terrace haven't died. So many trees have died over the past couple of years. Many more have been cut down and the wood "harvested" — a neighbor told me that companies are paying property owners good prices for wood that they are turning into pellets that can be burned in wood stoves.
Prices for other heating fuels — electricity, fuel oil, and gas — are very high now.

20 April 2022

Gratin de brocolis aux tomates

You can make this with fresh tomatoes (it's not the season) or with tomato sauce. To make sauce, we're buying tomato puree in jars these days because our 2021 vegetable was a disaster (lousy weather) and the tomato crop was pitiful. Never mind. Cook up about 8 oz. of pasta — these are called serpentini — until it's just al dente. Toss it in tomato sauce. Blanch (partially cook) a head of broccoli and cut it into florets.

Pour the pasta and sauce into a baking dish. Press the stem end of each broccoli floret into the pasta so that they are sort of standing up. Sprinkle grated Gruyère or Comté, or another cheese to your liking, over the broccoli. Bake the gratin in a hot oven for 15 or even 30 minutes until the cheese is melted and starting to brown, and the tomato sauce is bubbling. Serve hot with French bread and red wine.

P.S. We put some cooked lardons into our pasta and sauce. Diced cooked chicken would be good. A dish like this would be delicious with cheese sauce instead of tomato sauce. It's a nice presentation. And in summertime or autumn it would be fantastic with fresh tomatoes, like this.

19 April 2022

7:04 a.m. on Easter Monday

Le soleil se levait. La lune allait se coucher. L'aube.

18 April 2022

Lapin aux carottes et aux champignons

For our Easter Sunday dinner, I decided to make a stewed rabbit with carrots and button mushrooms. As far as I can tell, it's about the same thing as an old recipe for lapin en gibelotte, which I've made in past years. The other ingredients are onion, celery, herbs, and white wine. I didn't put in any lardons (bacon) this time, but I might add some today before we have the lapin aux carottes again.

Why are we having it again today? It's because Walt didn't eat any yesterday. Or anything. He was not feeling well at all.
I won't go into details; if he wants to tell about it, he will do so on his blog.

These photos are fairly self-explanatory. It's how you make a standard stew with meat and vegetables. In France
you can buy a whole rabbit or you can buy rabbit parts. This recipe would be good made with chicken or turkey.

I thickened the stewing liquid with a flour roux, and I put in my favorite spices, including black pepper and allspice.
The recipe I found on the internet had ingredients and instructions, but no quantities except for the amount of flour
for the roux and the number of onions. My translation (or adaptation, really) of it is below.

Rabbit with carrots and mushrooms

a rabbit cut into serving pieces
fresh button mushrooms
celery (optional)
smoked pork lardons (optional)
chopped onion to taste
thyme, oregano, or both
bay leaves
allspice (optional)
white wine
chicken or rabbit broth (or water)
potatoes (optional)

In a non-stick pan, sauté the rabbit pieces in olive oil until they start to take on a golden brown color.

Take the rabbit pieces out of the pan and set them aside. (I browned them in two batches — I was cooking a big rabbit, 1.7 kilos =3¾ lbs.) — in a non-stick frying pan and put them in a big wok in which I was going to cook the stew.)

Cook the (optional) lardons in the same pan. Put them in the wok with the rabbit pieces, along with the carrots, onions, celery, and mushrooms. Set the wok on a moderately hot burner and stir everything around to lightly brown the vegetables. Cover the wok as necessary and turn the heat down so that the vegetables and meat will start to cook through without burning.

Take the cover off the wok or pot. When the liquid in the wok has basically evaporated, sprinkle a tablespoon or two of flour over the stew ingredients. Stir. Season with salt, pepper, and (optional) allspice. Gradually pour in a mixture of white wine and broth, stirring everything to let the flour thicken the liquid. You should end up with just enough liquid to barely cover the meat and vegetables. (I had made rabbit broth using the trimmings and the head (!) of the rabbit after I cut it up. I had also marinated the rabbit pieces overnight in white wine and herbs, which also went into the stew.
Stir everything around gently. If the gravy is too thin, cook the stew uncovered to let it reduce. Adjust the amount of liquid to get the consistency you want. At this point, I put in four smallish potatoes, whole, to cook in the gravy. Let the stew simmer for 30 to 60 minutes, until the meat and vegetables are done to your taste. I like the rabbit well cooked, almost falling off the bone.

This kind of stew is almost better re-heated the next day, people always say. I'll let you know tomorrow if it was.

17 April 2022

Rabbit for Easter

I've told this story before, but you know me. Je radote — I keep telling the same stories over and over again. Advanced age is to blame, I suppose.

Back in 1984, I think it was, Walt and I were living on Capitol Hill in Washington DC. Easter rolled around, and we wondered what we might cook for our Easter Sunday dinner. I had always enjoyed eating rabbit in restaurants when I lived in Paris (1979-82). Somehow, Easter made me think of rabbit. In DC we lived near Eastern Market, a big indoor market hall where we often did our grocery shopping on Saturdays, and I had noticed several times that some vendors sold rabbits. So I bought one and cooked it for our Easter dinner. We've had rabbit on Easter every year since then. Today will be no exception — rabbit number 38.

I went to the outdoor market in Montrichard Friday morning and bought a rabbit. Yesterday I cut it up into serving-size pieces and put it in white wine to marinate overnight. I haven't decided yet how I'm going to cook it, but I know I'm going to stew or braise it, maybe with cream. By the way, rabbit is very lean and not strong-tasting. The liver and kidneys are good to eat too. Here in central France, a lot of people raise rabbits outdoor in cages as food.

16 April 2022

Nos artichauts

We planted four or five artichoke plants in our back yard 15 years ago. Two survived, and one has done spectacularly well. Two more have now come up spontaneously. We don't eat the artichokes. I wish I knew what variety the plant is. It doesn't produce globe artichokes like the ones we can buy at outdoor markets or in supermarkets. Anyway, it's a beautiful plant.

Apparently, artichoke plants were brought to southern Europe from North Africa in the Middle Ages and to France from Italy in the 16th century. The artichoke is a domesticated and cultivated thistle variety and is a perennial. We haven't had a freeze hard enough to kill the ones that grow in our yard since we planted them in 2007.

15 April 2022

Le prunus a fleuri

Another beautiful tree that grows in our back yard here in Saint-Aignan is a flowering cherry called un prunus. At least I think it would be considered a cherry tree, but it's purely ornamental. I doesn't produce fruit. Prunus is a genus of trees and shrubs that produce fruits including plums, cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, and almonds.

In the first photo above, you can see where the prunus grows in relation to our house.
The second photo shows how big it has grown. It was here when we bought the house.

Here's a close-up of one the blossoms it produces in April every year.

      Under and around the prunus there's a long line of large-leaved saxifrage plants (Bergenia cordifolia).
They produce pink flowers too, in winter, spring, and summer (close-up on right above).