30 November 2022

Making and eating a big salad

We had been looking for the right salad greens for a few weeks. We couldn't find what we wanted for what seemed a long time. This is the season for winter greens like scarole (escarole) and frisée (curly endive), after all. Then there they were — back again. I got this one at Intermarché, one of our two local supermarkets. We ate less than a third of it.


The scarole was gigantic and very fresh looking. I set it in our salad spinner to show you how big it was. Other salad ingredients were vinaigrette dressing, of course, made with Dijon mustard, white wine vinegar, olive oil, sunflower oil, fresh garlic, dried chives, and salt and pepper. Walt had bought some thinly sliced Italian pancetta (salt-cured pork belly) on Saturday when he went to the outdoor market in Saint-Aignan. He cut it into copeaux (shavings) that we cooked lightly in olive oil.

Bon appétit !


Into the salad went sun-dried tomatoes. Croûtons made with a stale baguette and toasted in the oven. Pecans, which I'm glad to say we now find in local super- and produce markets. Eggs, four of them, cooked sunny-side up. I tossed escarole leaves, tomatoes, and pancetta in vinaigrette in a big bowl. When all that was dressed, I put the croutons and pecans in and tossed it some more — you don't put them in for the first tossing because you don't want them to absorb too much vinaigrette and go soggy. And then you put a big serving of the tossed salad on your plate and place two eggs on top. The runny egg yolk combines with the vinaigrette to make a rich, tasty dressing.

29 November 2022

Satellite images of France

Nosing around on the internet this morning, I happened upon the site of the EU's Copernicus Sentinel-2 satellite. What caught my eye was a set of images showing the Mont Saint-Michel. I'd like to go back there one day.


On the left above is a satellite view of the baie du Mont-Saint-Michel. The Mont is the black speck near the center of the image. The image on the right shows a closer view, with the Mont again in the middle of the image.

Directly above is one of my photos of the Mont. I took it in June 2004 when I was driving up to the town of Barneville-Carteret to pick up CHM and his partner France and then drive back to Saint-Aignan. I also visited the Mont in 2005, 2006, and 2007. I don't believe I've been back there since then. My memory is not what it used to be...


Here are two more images that I saw on the Copernicus Sentinal-2 web site. I'm sure there are many more images there of many more sights in France. I'll be exploring it more.

28 November 2022

Day 3 of the lamb feast

For day 3 of the lamb feast, I made a shepherd's pie. I chopped and sautéed an onion, a shallot, some celery, and some mushrooms. I grated some carrot, and I pressed three garlic cloves. I diced up about 2 cups of lamb and added it to the pan with the aromatic vegetables. I also added some of the drippings (le jus) from the lamb roast, which I had saved.


Next, I steamed 8 or 10 potatoes. When they were tender, I let them cool and then scraped the peel off them. I mashed them with a wooden fork. Instead of butter and milk, I used olive oil and some more of the jus from the lamb roast as the liquid in the mashed potato. (I didn't think milk and butter would go well with the lamb mixture.) I seasoned the mashed potato with salt, black pepper, thyme, and spicy smoked paprika.


When the lamb mixture was cooked, I put it in the bottom of a baking dish. I spooned mashed potato over the lamb mixture to cover it completely. Using the wooden fork, I made a pattern on top of the potato so that it would brown and there would be some crispy bits on top after it cooked in the oven for about 30 minutes.

Voilà : a shepherd's pie (or hachis parmentier) made with lamb, aromatics including herbs and spices, and mashed potatoes à l'huile d'olive. I have two slices of the lamb in the freezer for another use, and of course we have leftovers of the shepherd's pie for another meal. (Scroll down to find more posts about this lamb roast.)

27 November 2022

Enjoying the 70s

No, not my age (73 and counting) — even though I enjoy my 70s most days. The 70s I'm referring to in my title are the 1970s, which I remember well. It's because I bought something I had hardly ever heard of since about 1978 — a grow light. It's a light bulb or fixture that emits what is called "full-spectrum" light that plants need to grow green and healthy. This one is two strips of tiny LEDs that you plug into a USB power supply and stick to a surface over the plants you want to see prosper.

As you can see in this picture, there is a little window that faces north where I can put a couple of plants. The window opens inward, so if we need to open it this winter we'll have to move those plants. The grow light is affixed with double-sided tape to the bottom of the wooden top of this table. Here's one that resembles the one I bought.

The plants above, growing in natural light behind an east-facing sliding glass door, are a portulacaria (grown from a cutting that CHM brought me from California nearly 20 years ago), a pothos (given to us by a kind neighbor who moved away two years ago and who used to take care of Bertie the black cat when we went traveling around France), and a sansevieria that is a descendant of a plant that my paternal grandmother had in her house when she died in 1977 and that I've kept growing since a cousin gave me a sprout from it in about 1984.

Why do we need a grow light? It's partly because winter days here in Saint-Aignan, which is actually farther north from the equator than is Quebec City or Minneapolis — it's at about the same latitude as Seattle. The other reason is that most of the windows in this French house have big radiators under them. So it's impossible to put plants under or near them in wintertime. Radiator heat is too hot and dry for plants. The plants are on the bottom of a Madison table that we've had since we lived in California. Three of them are gifts given to me by Evelyn (a pilea plant), by CHM (a portulacaria), and by our former neighbor Chantal (a pothos).

26 November 2022

Lamb days 1 and 2

Lamb Day 1 — lamb roast and mixed flageolet and green beans

It was a simple meal for the two of us, and one I've been making for four decades.

On Lamb Day 2, we ate slices of lamb with steamed potatoes and mayonnaise, followed by a salad of escarole and beets. The mayonnaise was home=made, but didn't take any pictures of it. See this and this.

25 November 2022

The lambsgiving roast

Seasoned with black pepper, salt, thyme, and spicy smoked paprika

Out of the oven and resting before being sliced

Sliced, and cooked the way we wanted it — rare to medium rare

24 November 2022

Happy Lambsgiving

Sorry if I've told this story before. Walt and I eat lamb — a leg of lamb — every Thanksgiving. That will include today. Nearly 30 years ago, we decided that we'd prefer to have lamb for Thanksgiving (a holiday in late November in the U.S.) and save our holiday turkey (or other bird) for Christmas. When we lived in the U.S., having lamb for one holiday made us not forget to cook lamb at least once a year. Besides, in France, it's hard to find a whole turkey in late November. Whole turkeys are only available at Christmastime, unless you get yourself really organized and special-order one a week or so in advance.

Here's this years leg of lamb (un gigot d'agneau in French). We had the butcher de-bone it and then roll it and tie it up. It's a lamb roast — un gigot désossé, roulé, et ficelé.It will be easy to carve, and we'll eat it all through the weekend either sliced, cold, with a home-made mayonnaise, or chopped up and turned into a soup or shephed's pie. Today we'll eat it with some flageolet beans and green mange-tout beans.

     The photo on the left just above shows the lamb roast's bottom, hidden side. On the right is how it will go into the oven, fat-side up, and be served after it's cooked. I was surprised that a leg of lamb prepared this way cost as little as it did — just 49 euros. It weighs 1.7 kilos. That's about 13 euros per pound. Last year's bone-in gigot d'agneau, which I got from the same butcher, was heavier and cost over 60 euros. I wonder how much that bone would weigh. You can see it and the accompaniments we had with it in this slideshow that I published 12 months ago.

23 November 2022

Osso bucco à la milanaise

This is my osso bucco, and this is probably too many pictures. It's based on two or three recipes that I've looked at — one of them is in Marcella Hasan's The Classic Italian Cookbook (1980). It's made with mixed vegetables, tomato sauce and fresh tomatoes, and slices of veal shank. For extra flavor, it can contain some orange zest and lemon zest. Add some bay leaves, oregano (or thyme), and black pepper to taste.

          The idea is to coat the pieces of veal lightly with seasoned flour and then brown them in a frying pan. Take them out of the pan and slowly "sweat" the vegetables, including onion, carrot, garlic, and celery, in the same pan at low heat until they're tender.

     Place the veal pieces on top of the vegetables, and add enough tomato sauce, enhanced by the addition of a good amount of chopped fresh tomato, along with some white wine and broth (veal, beef, chicken, or vegetable). Put in just enough liquid so that the veal piece are barely covered. They will shrink a little as they cook.

          Veal is a tender meat, and slow braising or stewing it brings out its best qualities. Serve the veal and sauce with rice, risotto, pasta, or polenta. Mine cooked, covered, for two hours in a slow oven and then for another 30 minutes on top of the stove, uncovered, to thicken the tomato sauce slightly.

22 November 2022

Dog discovers toads

This is Callie, the border collie we brought home in May 2007. She was only a year old when I took these photos during the great toad gatherings of 2008 — she was just sniffing, not hunting. Callie had long legs, a very long tail, and a beautiful coat. Sadly, she passed away in 2017 at the age of 10.

Back to the present: I'm having a pretty extreme allergy attack. I sneezed and wheezed all day yesterday. Luckily, I was able to get a good night's sleep. The symptoms are still making me miserable this morning.

21 November 2022

Wok de poulet et pois gourmands

That would be a stir-fry of chicken and snow peas. Plus other vegetables: onion, carrot, mushrooms, sweet peppers, etc. We made it as a Thai stir-fry by seasoning it with Thai fish sauce and Thai chili paste with holy basil leaves.

We've been very happy recently to find fresh snow peas in our two Saint-Aignan supermarkets. We are also still getting very nice haricots verts. Today's menu: osso bucco à la milanaise.

20 November 2022

Toads, and roof repairs

Here are a few more photos of the toads that invaded our pond and neighborhood back in the early years of our residency here in Saint-Aignan. At the time, I believed we might have invasions like that every year, but it's never happened again. I still see the odd toad or two from time to time, but no hordes of them.


This toad was an impressive swimmer...


Fortunately, we recently found a roofer who has now completed some repairs to stop a leak we've been dealing with for a few years now, as well as to fix a gutter and a downspout that were acting up. Thanks to the friends who recommended him. His work will be put to the test this week, it seems. MétéoFrance and other weather forecasting services are predicting we'll have a wet and windy week starting this morning.

19 November 2022

Pretty day, lamb, and wild boar pâté

We had a pretty day yesterday. It must have been the strong winds we had had overnight that blew the fog away and let the sun shine down. On my walk in the vineyard with Tasha, I didn't see any damage, despite the howling, whistling wind during the night. A couple of medium-size branches fell out of our linden tree, but that was about it.



I went and got my hair cut yesterday morning. It had been a while. I enjoyed talking with the young woman who runs the salon de coiffure about local happenings and intrigues. She like to talk and seems to trust me to not spread too much gossip, or not to name her as the source.

Trimmed and better groomed, I drove over to the best butcher's shop in the area, who used be have a small shop in Saint-Aignan, but now has a much larger shop with a parking lot over in Noyers. I bought a slice of wild boar pâté (pâté de sanglier) because it looked good, and I ordered a leg of lamb for our Thanksgiving dinner. We only buy gigot d'agneau once a year, and we cook it on Thanksgiving day. This year, I asked for a boneless, rolled, and tied gigot. It'll probably cost between 60 and 75 euros, maybe a little less, but we'll get several delicious meals out of it. The lambs the butcher sells are raised a couple of hours south of Saint-Aignan in the Limousin region, where the big city is Limoges. The meat is always excellent.