31 October 2022

Une cuisse de sanglier

You might not know what that means. Cuisse means "thigh", and a sanglier is a "wild boar". On dictionary.com I see this definition: "a wild Old World swine, Sus scrofa, from which most of the domestic hogs are believed to be derived". American friends who live a few miles upriver from us sent an e-mail Friday evening and said they had a special gift for us. Could they stop by on Saturday morning? Yes, of course. The gift was the raw, fresh leg of a boar weighing 4.8 kilos — just over 10 lbs. They have a neighbor who hunts and who shares the game he kills... let's say, "harvests".

There are a lot of wild boars in the Saint-Aignan area, and according to reports there are plenty of them that live in the vineyard or surrounding woods out behind our house. I've never seen one out there, but I have seen them up near the Château de Chambord, and even in the woods just across the Cher river in a forested area that's less than three miles from our house. Most of the time you only see them after dark, but one morning I was driving over to Romorantin, 15 miles east, and I saw a herd of them, 25 or 30 strong, cross the road in single file not far ahead of me. I slowed down and watched them climb up an embankment and disappear into the woods.

On Saturday I looked for information about cooking sanglier. The Larousse Gastronomique food and cooking encyclopedia says that les jeunes sangliers ont une chair délicate — the meat of a young boar is a delicacy... I hope it's true. I cooked half of the boar's leg we were given yesterday. We decided we wanted it well done — it's a variety of pork, after all. Then I found a French recipe on the 'net for what is called effiloché de gigot de sanglier. Just now, I found an English-language blog post on the same subjectpublished by a man who calls himself Chef Dennis.

So yesterday I cooked about half of the gigot / cuisse de sanglier in the slow cooker for 8 or 9 hours, with a carrot, a stalk of celery, a large shallot, and five or six garlic cloves. I put in some vinegar and spices and herbs to give the meat good flavor. I just tasted it and it is good. But it needs a sauce, so I'm going to do something new (for me) and make a batch of western North Carolina barbecue sauce to have with the pulled meat. Normally I use eastern NC sauce, which has no tomato or sugar in it, just vinegar and spices including hot red pepper and ground black pepper. Here's the recipe for the NC sauce that has tomato in it. You might enjoy watching this short YouTube video featuring a cook who shows how to make the sauce and has a western NC accent. Here's a link to part 2 of this post.

30 October 2022

Springing into fall... and maybe winter

It was not quite hot yesterday afternoon, but it was very warm. Our neighbors who live in Blois but have a house here, across the road from ours, were outdoors working in their big yard. They said they were seeing signs of plants flowering and growing as if it was springtime instead of fall. I think we're going into a cooler period now, though, and I kind of hope so. It's hard to complain about such beautiful weather, but it isn't normal after all. There's something worrisome about it.

Just to remind us that it really is the fall of the year, or at least soon will be....

A big branch fell out of one of our neighbor's poplar trees a few days ago.
And there are still hundreds of mushrooms in evidence all around the vineyard.

Yesterday was very warm, and this coming Tuesday is a holiday, la Toussaint (All Saints' Day). That means a lot of French people will take tomorrow, Monday, off and enjoy a long weekend. Right now there is a carnival set up on the big place (plaza) in Saint-Aignan, right next to the Saturday marché (outdoor food market). Traffic coming into town from the north, over the town's only bridge, was backed up for miles. I know, because I was in it, but I was going in the opposite direction. I wonder how many people spent the day at the Beauval zoo — thousands, I bet. Saint-Aignan is really changing because of that major tourist attraction.

I decided not try to get to Super U or the outdoor market to buy groceries, because both are on the main route to the zoo. I ended up driving over to Valençay instead. It's an hour-long round-trip, but it's a pretty drive and there was little to no traffic along the way. Since the Peugeot is running nicely, I enjoyed the drive. The town is famous for its château, its goat cheese, and its wines. One thing I noticed was that there were a lot of people out gathering wild mushrooms in the ten-square-mile forest on the northwestern edge of Valençay.

29 October 2022

All stacked up and no need to burn

The logs are all stacked, and Walt's working on the kindling. It's too warm to build a fire so far.

The sunrise over the vineyard was beautiful yesterday morning.

28 October 2022

Endless summer?

Maybe this is just a mini-summer. You can't even call it Indian Summer, because we haven't yet had any cold weather to speak of. Morning low temperatures match the afternoon high temperatures we used to expect in June or July just a few years ago. Today, we're supposed to be in the mid-70s F, and tomorrow the high might hit 80. It's all very weird. We took good advantage of yesterday's warm weather — Walt got the vegetable garden plot all cleaned up, and I pulled grass and weeds that had started growing up on the gravel walkway around the house. Because of abundant rains after a scorching summer, nature seems to think it's springtime.

The woman reading the news on Télématin just said in French what I wrote above in English. Plants' heads are spinning because of this mild weather. They're growing like they normally grow in April and May. We have weeds galore. In vegetable gardens, squash plants are still blossoming. Bean plants are still producing beans. Sunsets, instead of being gloomy and gray, look like this one. I took the photo above three days ago. It's all bizarre. In the past, the arrival of November has always meant there was a chill in the air and a gray, overcast sky — if not worse. Maybe everything will change next week.

So when Nature hands you hot weather, what do you do? You make summertime food. One of the tomatoes in this salad we had as part of our lunch yesterday came from the supermarket, but the other one came out of the vegetable garden yesterday morning. There are a dozen more garden tomatoes in a basket in the kitchen. Basil is still growing in a pot on the front deck. Today for lunch we'll be having sausages cooked on the barbecue grill. Instead of damp Toussaint days, we're enjoying Quatorze Juillet weather.

27 October 2022

Sesame chicken with ground meat

A few days ago I made a Thai stir-fry using ground chicken. It's not the first time, but I found a new recipe that I wanted try, and it was easy and good. Here's a link. I ground the chicken myself — I've never seen ground chicken in our supermarkets or outdoor markets here in Saint-Aignan. I have seen ground turkey a time or two, and that would be just as good. So would very lean ground pork, or other lean meat.

As for vegetables, you can put in what you want. We happened to have one last portion of snow peas (pois gourmands in French) in the freezer as well as a jar of water chestnuts (châteigns d'eau). Onions, carrots, mushroom... tout est possible.The process is to stir-fry the gound meat with onions, garlic, and hot red pepper flakes (or not), make a sweet and sour sauce with soy sauce, sesame oil, sugar, vinegar, and other ingredients, and then pour the sauce over the cooked meat and add in the vegetables, pre-cooked if you prefer. Just bring it to the boil and it's done. Serve Thai sesame chicken with boiled noodles or steamed rice.

We had ours along with pan-fried potstickers and nems (Vietnamese egg rolls), both of which were good dipped into the sesame sauce.

26 October 2022

Inside the Peugeot, which passed

"Passed" means it passed inspection. It was deemed road-worthy by the government-licensed expert who makes that pronouncement every two years. In 2020, I had the car completely serviced, examined, and refurbished by our village mechanic before I took it in for its contrôle technique. This year, I took it to my regular mechanic and just asked him to do a quick "sanity check" — brakes, tires, lights, etc. The Peugeot 206 is the vehicle I bought in June 2003, when we came to live in France. I bought it used, telling Walt that it wasn't the car I really wanted, but we needed a car right away, and it was the one I found. I had tried to buy a new car that summer, but was told by a dealer that he wouldn't be able to get me the car I wanted until late October! Little did I believe that I'd still be driving it in 2023, but it looks like I will — barring an accident or a major breakdown. The longest I've ever owned a single car before this was nine years.

I've always enjoyed driving this year-2000 Peugeot 206. For such a small car, it has a big engine (two liters). It's peppy, and it holds the road really well. It being small is a big advantage here, where roads are narrow and curvy, and parking spaces are small. I've tried to keep it in good shape, inside and out. It's a lot easier and less expensive to keep this car running than it would be to go out hunting for a newer used car. What would I do with a new car? I don't drive enough to want one.

Since I bought a second car (a Citroën) in 2015, I don't drive the 206 very much. And since the beginning of the pandemic I don't drive that one much either. I did the math yesterday and realized that for the past two years we've put about 145 kilometers a month on the Peugeot — less than 90 miles — and about 95 klometers a month — about 60 miles — on the Citroën.

Above, you can see the Peugeot's instrument cluster. It drives like a little sportscar. The car's back seat is minimal. It's really a two-seater, but the dog fits easily in the back. The trunk is not very big either, but when we need to we can take the back seat out and double the trunk space. It would be impossible to live here without a car, and having two of them makes life easier. I may buy another car one day, but I kind of doubt it. For future travels around France, if we ever do any, I plan to just rent a car.

25 October 2022

L'art d'accommoder les restes

That means "the art of making the most of leftovers." On Sunday I diced up some of the vegetables and meat from the potée (boiled dinner) that I made on Saturday and, using the bouillon that the vegetables and meat had cooked in, I made turkey-barley soup. Yum.

Yesterday, I cut up the rest of the vegetables into bigger cubes, spread them out in a big baking dish, drizzled olive oil on them, and roasted them in the oven. That was good too. It's important to eat your vegetables.

P.S. No news about the car yet. When I dropped it off yesterday, it was supposed to have its inspection between 3 and 4 p.m. Walt and I and drove back over there at about 5 and were told the guy hadn't yet been able to to look at it. So we have to go again today and see if it's ready. I'll call this time, before we drive over there.

24 October 2022

Vues sur les vignes

It's raining again this morning. We had a pretty, sunny day yesterday, but with gusty winds in the afternoon. Accuweather says our high temperature this afternoon will be 26ºC — 80ºF. The sky will be cloudy, with a slight chance of showers. This is strange weather for the end of October. Here are some pictures I took out in the vineyard about a week ago. These are our fall colors. Heavy rains and wind gusts have blown a lot of the leaves away now.

On the left above is what we see as we go through the back gate to walk in the vineyard.
On the right is the view of our back yard and house looking in the opposite direction.

Here's a closeup of those red grapevine leaves.

On the left above is the vineyard parcel closest to our house, which is behind the tall trees on the upper right.
The plot of land with the propriété privée sign on it is a small orchard on the north side of our house. Some people from Brittany own it. They used to come regularly to cut the grass and pick ripe fruit, but it's been a year or two since we've seen them.

Today is the big day for the 22-year-old Peugeot: it's contrôle technique time. My fingers are crossed, because I'm hoping it won't need any major repairs. My mechanic says it might need a couple of shock absorbers to the tune of 550 euros. It's a car we drive to places that are no more than 15 miles from home. We have another car for longer trips. I took the Peugeot out for a 25-mile drive yesterday. I also calculated that since its last inspection 23 months ago, we've driven it about 80 miles a month. That's less than 2,000 miles in two years.

23 October 2022

Une potée improvisée

Un beau chou frisé, une cuisse de dinde, deux saucisses grillées, un oignon, un rutabaga, deux navets, deux panais, quatre carottes, trois feuilles de laurier, et voilà ! Une potée à ma façon. Deux heures de cuisson. Délicieux.

22 October 2022

Crustless quiche

Here's what we had for lunch yesterday: a mushroom, ham, and cheese quiche. Without a crust. It's a very easy recipe, and it's delicious. I made it with Beaufort cheese, which despite the name doesn't come from North Carolina. It comes from the French Alps.

I actually made two quiches, so we'd have one in the fridge for a second lunch.

Here's a recipe:

Crustless Quiche

4 whole eggs
3 oz. flour (100 g)
1 cup milk
½ cup cream
5 oz. grated cheese (150 g)
onions, meat, mushrooms, vegetables, etc. for flavor

Sautee the flavor ingredients and let cool.

Mix eggs, flour, milk, cream, and cheese together and pour over the flavor ingredients in a buttered oven-proof dish.

Bake for 35 minutes or more at 375ºF.

21 October 2022

Foggy October mornings

The weather is eerily warm and wet these days. Yesterday we had rain in the morning, sun in the afternoon, a brief thunderstorm at 5 p.m. with an impressive downpour, and then, unless I was dreaming, rain most of the night. We had a roofing contractor over and the rain chased us inside as we were outdoors trying to show him the chimney-flashing, downspout, and rain-gutter issue we are having. now that the rains have started up for the winter. I assume it will stay rainy until spring. Or I hope, I should say.

I took these photos across the street in our Blois neighbors' yard as Tasha and I were out walking one morning earlier this week. These neighbors have a big plot of land that slopes steeply down to a ravine with a stream at the bottom. Altogether, I think they have five acres, half lawn and half woods.

The ground was really wet because of heavy rains for three days. The wet ground plus warm air temperatures resulted in thick layer of ground fog.

Here's what the catalpa tree looked like a few days earlier. The heavy rains and accompanying winds have stripped a lot of leaves off the trees around here. The temperature this morning at 6 a.m. is 61ºF. A year ago on this date, our low temperature was 30ºF.

20 October 2022

Les chèvres de nos voisins

Have I mentioned that our young neighbors just down the road are keeping a couple of goats in an outbuilding on their property? They are beautiful animals. I don't know if the neighbors milk them or do anything with the milk.

19 October 2022

Jambon persillé : le résultat

The meat I made this with is not really jambon. It's pork shoulder that has been salt cured. I soaked it over night, changing the water three times, to make sure it wouldn't be too salty. And it worked. Then I cooked it in a big pot of water for three hours with a carrot, an onion, three bay leaves, and three garlic cloves, along with some black peppercorns, allspice berries, and whole cloves. I also cut parsley from our plant downstairs and put the stems in the pot, saving the parsley leaves for the final step — preparing the terrine.

     After the cooked pork shoulder had spent the night in the refrigerator, I pulled the meat off the bones and trimmed off nearly all the fat. You can see that the meat was very lean, and it was very tender. Above right are the parsley leaves from our plant.

We ate the terrine cold, after it had spent 24 hours in the refrigerator. Alongside, we had hearts of palm (cœurs de palmier), artichoke hearts (cœurs d'artichauts), hard-boiled eggs (œufs durs), boiled potatoes, good bread, and red wine.

     Here's the final preparation of the terrine. The cooked pork shoulder is laid out on a layer of chopped parsley leaves. Then there's another layer of parsley, another of pork, etc. — three layers of each. More chopped parsley goes on top. The cold pork broth with gelatine dissolved in it is poured over all. The dish goes into the refrigerator for 24 hours before it's served. The photo below shows the "volunteer" parsley plant in the greenhouse.

18 October 2022

Minor flooding this morning

I went downstairs early this morning to let Tasha out to pee and to open Bert's window in the garage — the cat is free to come and go through that window during the day but we close it at bedtime and keep him in overnight. I was surprised to find myself walking in water in the garage. It wasn't too deep, but we've never before had so much water on the garage floor.

Walt says it rained really hard for a good hour overnight. There was a lot of lightning and thunder as well. You couldn't prove it by me, though. I slept soundly right through it all.

I just checked the rain gauge and saw that we got another 40 mm (1.6 inches) of rainfall overnight, after getting the same amount on Saturday and Sunday combined. This is the third time, I believe, that we've had water on the garage floor since we moved here in 2003, but as I said, never this much before. Luckily, only one cardboard box of papers got slightly wet.

17 October 2022

Apples and mushrooms

I emptied the rain gauge a few minutes ago. It was completely full, which means we have had about 40 millimeters of rainfall over the past two days — more than an inch and a half. And it's supposed to rain every day this week. The wind that comes with the rain has shaken a lot of apples out the trees out back. When the rains stop, we'll have to gather them all up so that Walt can mow the yard one last time this year. And the wet ground has resulted in another mushroom bloom. They are white ones this time. By the way, the temperature outside this morning is 18ºC — almost 65ºF. A week ago, the morning lows were in the high 40s and low 50s.



Meanwhile, I've been working on my cooking project. On Friday I cooked 2½ lbs. of pork shoulder for three hours in broth with vegetables and aromatics. Yesterday, after the cooked meat had spent the night in the refrigerator, I cut it up into little pieces. Then I went down to the greenhouse and picked a big bunch of parsley. We have a parsley plant in there that keeps coming back spontaneously every year, growing in the gravel and sand floor. All we have to do is harvest it. The abundance of parsley leaves is what moved me to make jambon persillé de Bourgogne over the weekend. We plan to have have some of it for lunch today. More about that tomorrow.

16 October 2022

Bringing in the leaves

It hasn't been very cold yet, but it's been pretty damp and chilly. I've been working on bringing in plants that don't like that kind of weather. Some of them spent the summer on the front deck, and others were down on the ground on the north side of the house, where they got good light but no direct sun. Now it's time for them to get used to the greenhouse again. We had this little glass structure built onto the side of the house, over the back door, six years ago.

The greenhouse (une serre in French) seen from under an apple tree out in the yard

Rainy weather will create a good evironment in the greenhouse for plants like these — light and not damp.

Here's a close-up so you can better see the kinds of plants plants I've brought in.

It rained most of the day yesterday. It's supposed to rain again this morning. Maybe we'll see the sun this afternoon. (The red diamond on the map shows where Saint-Aignan is.)

However, this morning's weather forecast for Saint-Aignan this coming week shows rain every day.