30 November 2023

The greenhouse...

...is on my mind today. I was poking around in there yesterday and realized that I need to do some greenhouse-keeping before really wintry weather sets in. Actually, we're supposed to have a low temperature of -4ºC tomorrow morning. That's about +25ºF. Brrr. I'll need to think about the best strategy for safeguarding our outdoor plants — where to put them. I've already brought some in. But first I need to think about today's lunch. It'll be stuffed cabbage leaves. I think Julia Child has a good recipe for the stuffing in one of her books.

The photos above are some pictures of the greenhouse, the house, and the back yard that I took in late November 2016. We had just had the greenhouse built a month or two earlier. I'll be interested to see if the temperature in there goes down to freezing tomorrow morning. We haven't had much really cold weather over the past 3 or 4 years.

29 November 2023

A late-November sunrise in 2009

The sun is setting on the month of November, 2023. When I first looked at these photos that I took in late November 2009, I thought they were taken out in the vineyard at sunset. It turns out, if I can trust my own photo organizing and labeling, this was a sunrise. According to the data saved with the photo by my camera, the picture above was taken two minutes before the photo below. Skies change so fast. You have to be there and be quick to capture them in photos.

28 November 2023

Le Paon-du-jour

I used to see butterflies like these fairly often in our yard and out in the vineyard. I haven't seen one in quite a while now. I hope it's just because I've been going out with my camera less frequently over the past 10 years, and especially since 2020. I took these photos between 2007 and 2012.

This butterfly is called le paon-du-jour in French. Paon means peacock, and the butterfly is called the European Peacock, or just the peacock butterfly, in English. It has a wingspan of about two inches. Wikipedia calls it a "relatively common" butterfly — even though it seems less common around here these days. The Wikipedia article says it hibernates over winter before laying batches of up to 400 eggs.

27 November 2023

Le Gigot de novembre : suite et fin

Here's what I had left of the lamb yesterday morning. I was hesitating between making a French navarin lamb stew with it (but I didn't have any turnips), or making Kentucky-style lamb barbecue for sandwiches. The spiciness of the barbecue sauce made me think of making a Moroccan-style braised tajine instead. That would be good on a cold day. That's what I made.

Down in the cellar had a package of the Moroccan spice mixture called raz-eh-hanout. You can read the list of spices included on the label. The first step was to sauté some sliced onions, and then put the meat in the pan with the spice mixture and let it brown. After browning, the lamb needed to cook slowly for about 90 minutes.

Meanwhile, Walt went out to the vegetable garden plot and brought in another sucrine du Berry winter squash. We cut it into cubes and and then peeled the cubes that had some of the peel on them. We also had some prunes in the cellar, so in they went too. The squash cubes and prunes didn't go into the wok until close to the end of the cooking time. They cook fast. It was ready.

We made a batch of couscous, which takes all of five minutes. The tajine stayed on the heat. When the couscous was fluffy, we had lunch, with a bottle of Beaujolais Nouveau red wine. Another year's lamb was finished, except the half a dish of moussaka we have in the fridge. In all, we will have had six six lamb meals in six days, for 60 euros worth of lamb.

Hors sujet : here is a link to several tajine recipes.

26 November 2023

La moussaka de novembre : une recette

Couper 2 grosses aubergines en tranches. Les arranger sur une plaque à pâtisserie et les badigeonner d'huile d'olive. Les mettre à dorer pour au four préchauffé à 180°C pendant 12 à 15 minutes. Les sortir du four et les laisser refroidir. Faire de même avec cinq pommes de terre précuites à la vapeur et coupées en tranches fines.

Mélanger 500 g de viande 'agneau ou de bœuf hachée, un oignon haché, 3 cuillerées à soupe de sauce tomate très réduite, de l'origan sechée, de l'huile d'olive, une pincée de canelle et une pincée de noix muscade, puis du sel et du poivre. Faire cuire le hachis de viande dans une sauteuse sur le feu.

Huiler un plat allant au four et mettre une couche de tranches de pommes de terre au fond. Puis le remplir de couches de tranches d'aubergines alternées de couches de hachis de viande en terminant par du hachis. Mettre le plat au four préchauffé à 180 °C pendant 45 minutes. Éteindre le four et y laisser 15 minutes la moussaka, porte entrouverte. Sortir le plat du four et servir la moussaka chaude.

P.S. As a finishing touch, make a sauce Mornay (a Béchamel with some grated cheese melted into it). You can make the roux for the Mornay sauce using butter or oil, along with milk and/or cream. Off the heat, add a beaten egg to the Mornay sauce and stir it in well. Pour the Mornay over the top of the moussaka before putting the dish into the oven. It's done when it's golden brown. Don't forget the cinnamon and nutmeg. They give the moussaka its delicious flavor. Here's a link to a recipe in English.

25 November 2023

November lamb, day 2

The second day of Thanksgiving means leftovers. Everything is at room temperature: thin slices of medium-rare roasted leg of lamb, whole potatoes and brussels sprouts cooked in a steamer pot and left to cool, and a bowl of fresh home-made mayonnaise. Enough said.

24 November 2023

Le gigot de novembre 2023

The gigot ready for the oven... I mixed thyme, chives, black pepper, salt, allspice powder, and hot smoked paprika into some olive oil, let it sit for an hour or so, and then brushed the mixture onto the top side of the gigot. I also put some garlic and shallots in the bottom of the roasting pan and poured in some dry white wine and water.

Here's how it came out of the oven. I roasted it in a hot oven (400ºF) for half an hour, and then turned the oven down to 350ºF for another 40 minutes. Finally, I turned the oven off and let the gigot rest inside with the door slightly open. And my fingers crossed.

Here's what it looked like when we started carving it. It came out rare or at least medium rare. Today we'll eat slices of lamb and boiled potatoes with home-made mayonnaise, followed by a green salad with vinaigrette dressing.

Yesterday's was a very simple meal, actually. We cut thin slices of lamb and enjoyed them with haricots flageolets and haricot verts flavored with some of the lamb drippings, along with some good bread and wine. Notice that these were slices from close to the outside of the leg so they're not as rare as the lamb we'll have today.

23 November 2023

The makings for our lamb-day dinner

Here's the gigot d'agneau. In U.S, terms it weighs just over five pounds and cost 62 euros. This is the face cachée — the hidden side. I won't turn it over during the cooking time. Over the weekend, we'll have thin slices of lamb served with boiled potatoes, home-made mayonnaise, and green salad with vinaigrette dressing. I also plan to make a Greek dish called moussaka using the leftover lamb, and also a pot of lamb and barley soup if I have enough meat left.

This is the "public" side. The layer of fat on top will melt and flavor the meat, as well as keep it from drying out. I plan to cook the leg for about seventy-five minutes at high temperature. That's 15 minutes per pound — 500 grams is a French pound (une livre) and is equal to 1.1 U.S. pounds. Finally, I'll turn the oven off and leave the door open slightly to let the meat rest for 30 minutes so that the heat gets evenly distributed through the roast. I want it cooked rare to medium-rare. I guess all that sounds pretty complicated.

For dessert, this morning Walt will make a pie using a sucrine du Berry winter squash. Here's what the sucrine looks like after it has been baked in the oven.

I bought this loaf of pain de campagne at a local boulangerie to have with the lamb dinner. Pain de campagne — country-style bread — is made with 90% wheat flour and 10% rye flour, plus yeast, salt, and water.

We are having local wines with our Thanksgiving dinner. Both are primeur wines — think Beaujolais Nouveau — and both the wineries are just across the river from our hamlet. The red wine is a Touraine Gamay vintage, and the white wine is a Sauvignon Blanc.

As an appetizer or hors-d'œuvre we will have some smoked cod liver (foie de morue fumé) and some moules à l'escabèche on bread or crackers. Here's a link to the Wikipedia article about the vinegar and oil sauce called escabèche.

22 November 2023

November — Lamb Day

"Lamb Day" at our house means Thanksgiving — we cook a leg of lamb. It's unusual for us to cook more than one leg of lamb (gigot d'agneau) a year. Here are some pictures of the gigot we cooked for Thanksgiving 10 years ago. It was a de-boned, rolled, and tied roast. It was so big that I ended up cutting it in half, cooking half, and putting half of it in the freezer, raw, to roast later. This year I went to the butcher's and ordered a whole, bone-in leg, trimmed and ready for the oven.

I'll show pictures of our 2023 Thanksgiving Day gigot tomorrow, and pictures of it cooked and carved in a day or two. In 2013 the boneless rolled and tied gigot weighed in at 2.31 kilograms (5 lbs.) and cost 45 euros. This years bone-in lamb weighs 2.34 kilos and cost 62 euros. The price is high, but it's a once-a-year treat.

Another treat we have on Thanksgiving Day is one of Walt's pumpkin pies. He makes the buttery crust from scratch and this year he grew the "pumpkin" — a winter squash called une sucrine du Berry — in the vegetable garden. The picture below shows his 2013 pumpkin pie.

21 November 2023

Bertie en novembre

Going through some photos this morning, I found these two of our cat Bertie that I took 10 years ago in November. Bertie was a cat we adopted when the British couple who had got him as a kitten decided to return to the U.K. He was 4 years old when he came to live here, and he died last spring at the age of 17. Because he and our dog, Callie the border collie, never got to be friends, he often was on the outside looking in, as in the photo on the right.

He slept in our unheated garage for 7 or 8 years. On really cold nights, he would sleep in the utility room, which was warmer. In autumn and winter, he loved to sit out in the afternoon sunshine off our front terrace. I imagine his black fur got pretty warm, and he liked that. After Callie died in 2007, soon after we brought Natasha the Sheltie home, Bertie spent more time in the house. He and 'Tasha often slept side by side on the sofa up in the loft. He enjoyed the end of his life, I believe, and passed away peacefully.

20 November 2023

Couleurs de novembre : plantes diverses


It's a good thing that in past years we had some Novembers that were dry and sunny. Not this year. Instead of going outside to photograph mushrooms, lichens, hydrangeas, mint, and colorful trees, I'm just enjoying seeing them again as photos.