31 March 2024

At the market in Montrichard in 2008

A couple of days ago, I mentioned the ferme-auberge (farm inn) a mile from our house. Its owners make and sell goat cheeses at the farm and also at the outdoor markets in Saint-Aignan and Montrichard. Above is a picture of Mme B. her cheese stand, and her farm-made cheeses, with customers waiting to be served.

At the farm they raise goats, rent rooms and gîtes, serve meals, and make goat's milk cheeses in several styles and shapes. There are Sainte-Maure de Touraine logs like the one I bought to have with our Easter dinner today. They also make Selles-sur-Cher disks, Valençay pyramids, and little Chavignol (Sancerre) rounds called crottins. I'll post more photos tomorrow after I've our Easter dinner this morning.


Finally, for today, here are some rabbits on sale at the Friday morning Montrichard market. This year I didn't buy a whole rabbit, just a couple of rabbit thighs (cuisses de lapin). That meant I didn't get the rabbit liver, which is good to eat, resembling chicken liver. So I bought a package of cooked gésiers de poulet to put in the rabbit stew instead. More tomorrow.

30 March 2024

Lapin en gibelotte pour Pâques

For tomorrow's Easter dinner, I'll be cooking rabbit. It's a standard item here in the supermarkets and on the open-air markets. This year, I just bought a couple of rabbit thighs. The hind legs of the rabbit are very meaty and very lean. I'll cook it in a way that's called en gibelotte, which means in a stew made with a white wine sauce,mushrooms, onions, and smoked pork bacon (lardons fumés). I'll be adding some turnips, leeks, carrots and chicken gizzards (gésiers) to the stew, because I like them. I'll take pictures.

If you want to see various versions of rabbit stew on my blog, click this link and then scroll down to see some old blog posts.

We'll also be enjoying some fromage de chèvre as the cheese course with our rabbit lunch. I bought an A.O.C. Sainte-Maure de Touraine log of goat cheese. As you can see I did my shopping at Super U. More tomorrow...

29 March 2024

Goat's milk cheeses from Romorantin

A few years ago (2008) the woman who used to bring us bread (the opportunity to buy it, actually) 4 or 5 mornings a week was driving a much bigger car than her regular LWV (Little White Van), which is the standard commercial vehicle in this area. That day, she was doing her rounds in what would be called a mini-van over in the U.S. She had to get out of the mini-van and go open the back hatch to get the bread I wanted that morning. Usually she would just stay in the driver's seat of her LWV and grab a baguette or whatever for us.

Madame Corbeau's goat cheeses,
in the style of Selles-sur-Cher

As I looked into the back of the van, I noticed three or four nice-looking goat cheeses sitting on a tray alongside the many loaves of bread. The label  on the cheese was shiny and blue and it caught my eye.

Where does the goat cheese come from? I asked. Romo, Roselyne (the bread lady) said. It looked so good. Je vais en prendre un, I told her. I'll take one — how much are they? €2,90 was the price. I had to run back into the house to get some more money. By the way, Romorantin (called "Romo" by most people) is a big town (pop. nearly 20K) about half an hour from Saint-Aignan and 20 minutes northeast of Selles-sur-Cher.

The cheese under the gray rind
is perfectly white, smooth, and firm

This goat cheese is very much like the cheese my neighbors make at their farm up in the vineyard. It's a little disk with a grayish-black rind and a smooth, perfectly white interior. Local people call it un bleu — but it's not at all a blue cheese like Roquefort or Bleu d'Auvergne; it just has a bluish rind. There are many local producers of such cheeses and they are available in the local supermarkets and  weekly open-air markets too.

That rind is the result of a mixture of wood ash and salt that the cheese is coated with for the ripening process. The ash and salt give the cheese extra flavor. You are supposed to eat it, not scrape or cut it off and throw it away.

Here's a clearer shot of the label

This cheese "selected" by Mme Pierre Corbeau in Romorantin is made in the style of Selles-sur-Cher cheeses, which carry an A.O.C. quality label. If you've never tried goat cheese, this is the one to start with. It doesn't have a mushy texture or a strong goaty flavor like some goat cheeses do. The flavor is distinct but mild, and the texture is firm and almost chalky (but not quite) when it's mi-sec. It's great with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc wine from the Cher Valley (Sancerre, Menetou-Salon, Quincy, or Touraine). I sure do miss having the bread lady stop by to sell me a little baguette or a larger pain or boule several days a week. Nowadays, we have to fire up the Peugeot and make a special trip to one of the half-dozen local bakeries to get bread.

In fact, the boulangerie that's closest to us is closed; it's down in the village center, across the road from the village church. That's a 45-minute walk from our house. Most of the way, there are no sidewalks along the road. The baker pulled down the shutters on March 18. We're hoping somebody will take it over soon and will make bread as good as the other baker did.  I imagine he bought a bakery in a bigger town where the business would be more profitable. That's what the baker who preceded him did. A lot of locla people just by bread in the supermarkets these days. The quality of supermarket bread has improved greatly over the past 20 years.

28 March 2024

Selles-sur-Cher goat's milk cheeses

Above are some local Cher Valley goat cheeses. These are made by a goat farmer about a mile from our house. The round flat ones are made in the style of Selles-sur-Cher goat cheeses. Below are some other goat cheeses made in various shapes and styles by the same farmer. To read more about Selles-sur-Cher goat cheeses, follow this link.

Here's what a Selles-sur-Cher cheese looks like in its packaging.

27 March 2024

June 2006 in Selles-sur-Cher (2)

The open-air market in Selles-sur-Cher is one of the largest in our area. The town's web site says there are about 100 vendors at the market, selling local products, seafood, plantsfor your garden, clothing, etc. Parking is easy and the market can be really crowded when the weather is sunny and warm. The famous château de Valençay is less than 10 miles south of Selles. Saint-Aignan its Saturday morning market, and the Beauval zoo are 10 miles west. There is also a Saturday morning market in the town of Chabris, 5 miles east. There's an all-day market on Wednesdays in Romorantin, 10 or 11 miles northeast of Selles.

26 March 2024

June 2006 in Selles-sur-Cher (1)

The church in Selles-sur-Cher was built as an abbey church more than a thousand years ago (12th century). It was modified over the centuries, with the last restoration taking place in the 19th century. An earlier church on the site was built in the 6th century and "ravaged" by the Vikings early in the 10th century, according to Wikipedia. The current church was ravaged by Protestant forces during the French Wars of Religion (16th century).

25 March 2024

March 2004 in Selles-sur-Cher

The Cher River runs pretty much east to west in this area, from from Vierzon to Tours, both of which are about an hour's drive from Saint-Aignan. There's a town almost every ten or twelve miles along the river. The town just upriver from Saint-Aignan is called Selles-sur-Cher. It has a population of nearly 4,500. It also has a château, a huge church, and a gigantic open-air market on Thursday mornings. We often go there in springtime to buy flowers for our window boxes because the selection is more varied than what we can find nearer home. It's all of a 20-minute drive from our house. Here are a few pictures:

24 March 2024

Late March 2004...

...in Saint-Aignan. We had been here less than a year, and had sold our San Francisco house exactly one year earlier. An old friend from California was visiting, and I remember that the weather was especially nice right then. This morning it's cold here, and again the weather forecasts say to expect rain most days next week.

The population of Saint-Aignan has declined over the past 20 years, from 3,500 to 2.900. I think that's because everybody has a car these days, and people want to live in the countryside rather than in a crowded town. More and more houses are being built all around the area, and the population of our département (county) overall, which is centered on the small city of Blois, has grown over the past 20 years.

23 March 2024

March surprises

No snow or other surprises so far this year. No real blog post this morning either. Too busy.

17 March 2018 at Saint-Aignan

19 March 2018 at Saint-Aignan

22 March 2024

C-Day: June 11

Yesterday afternoon, Walt, Tasha and I drove up to Blois for my appointment with the ophthalmologist who about three weeks ago diagnosed me as having growing cataracts in both of my eyes. It's a 45- to 60-minute drive to Blois depending on which route you choose to drive and what traffic is like. On the most direct route, there is a town you have to drive through on a ridiculously narrow main street which always seems to be blocked by some over-sized vehicle (bus, big rig, tractor, or harvester).

We had the farm equipment scenario to cope with yesterday. We rode behind some enormous engin at about 20 mph for what seemed like forever. I was convinced I was going to be late for my 3:30 appointment, which was supposed to take an hour. I had been told (orally and in writing) that I wouldn't be allowed to drive myself home after the appointment because both of my eyes would be dilated as part of the procedure, which was described as taking measurements of my eyeballs.

While I was in the doctors' office, Walt spent some time just sitting out in the parking lot in front of the building and then he took Tasha for a walk in some parkland just across the street... Anyway, we had arrived there on time, or maybe 10 minutes early. After I scanned my national health service membership card in some kind of card reader, I was sent into a waiting room to, well, wait to be called in by the doctor or one of his assistants. There must have been 15 or 20 other people in the room. I wondered how long I would have to wait. But I needn't have worried.

I was called in by a doctor's assistant not more that 10 minutes after my arrival. I thought it was interesting that he was dressed in a white T-shirt, dark blue jeans, and white tennis shoes. The whole atmosphere was relaxed but really professional at the same time. The assistant had me put my chin up against a big light-box of some sort. I saw nothing but a bright green light shining in each of my eyes. The assistant was taking pictures of my eyes, I guess. Maybe that was how eye measurements are taken, I thought to myself. In five minutes' time I was seated back out in the waiting room to, well, wait for the doctor to call me in.

That didn't even take five minutes. This is the third time I've seen him, so we sort of know each other. The first time I saw him, about 18 months ago, he looked at my name, looked at my face, and then asked me if we needed to speak English. I told him no and added that I had spent nearly half my life in France. I could cope. This time, and the time before over in Montrichard, he didn't need to ask me that question.

He had me put my chin up against another light-box type machine and took some more pictures of my eyes. That took all of five minutes. The doctor said, you know, the surgical procedure for each eye takes only about 15 minutes. He also said that my weaker eye would be done first, and if that went well they'd do the other eye two weeks later. Good plan, I thought to myself. Then he sent me back to the waiting room to, well, wait some more. After, well, waiting for about five minutes, I was called over by a woman sitting at the office's reception desk.

Monsieur Bro-ah-dyurst, she said, hesitantly. Did I say that right, she asked. I told her yes, that's how I pronounce it when I'm speaking French, adding that the pronunciation is different in English. She looked at me as if she wanted to say no kidding. She told me that another employee in an office just behind me would be calling me in in a couple of minutes to make appointments for me for the actual surgery. And then she said, that'll be 60 euros please. I paid with my French debit card. She looked past me to the office where the appointments employee was sitting and said I didn't need to go back into the waiting room; I could go directly into the office behind me. I did.

The employee in the office told me she could schedule the first of the two of appointments with the surgeon for May 15. The second one, to do the other eye, would be for May 30. Can we put that off until June, I asked her, telling her I had other things to do in late May. No problem, she said. How about June 11 for the first eye and June 25th for the second one. That would be perfect, I told her.

She asked me if I had somebody who could drive me to Blois and then drive me back home again. I said yes. The doctor said the procedure for each eye will take only about 15 minutes, I told her. Well, she said, not really. You'll need to be here for three or four hours each time. Oh, I thought to myself, that won't be very convenient for Walt and Tasha. Would they wait all that time, or would they drop me off, drive back home, and then drive back to Blois to get me later in the day?

I asked the scheduler if she thought I might be able to have the national health service pay for a taxi for the round-trip for each eye. Somebody had told me that might be a possibility. Avez-vous une mutuelle, she asked me. Yes, I said, with MMA. That's my complementary insurance plan. The mutuelle will pay for the taxis, she said. Just be sure you show the taxi driver(s) your mutuelle membership paperwork so that the taxi rides can be correctly charged. She said that later I would also need to schedule a pre-operation appointment with an on-staff anesthetist. For that one, I can drive myself to Blois and back home again. I won't need a chauffeur.

There will also be post-surgery medical exams I'll need to have, the employee said. She looked at my paperwork. So you live in Saint-Aignan, she asked. Is that closer to Montrichard than to Blois? Yes, I said, much closer: 15 kilometers rather than 40 kilometers each way. Okay, I'll schedule your post-operation meetings with the doctor at our Montrichard outpost, she said. That was nice.

And that was it. I was free to go. It wasn't even four o'clock yet. From the employee's office window, I could see Walt walking through the parking lot outside. As I left the building, I realized that my eyes hadn't been dilated during the whole process. Walt and Tasha could have stayed home and I could have driven myself up to Blois and back. Oh well... La perfection n'est pas de ce monde, as my late friend Charles-Henry would have said.

21 March 2024

Auvergne cheeses

These are some of the cheeses we bought from a vendor at the marché de Brioude. All were cow's milk products. And all were delicious. The only one that I can get easily here in Saint-Aignan is the St-Nectaire. Other Auvergne cheeses are Cantal, Salers, Fourme d'Ambert, and Bleu d'Auvergne...

20 March 2024

St-Julien de Brioude : intérieurs

Nothing much to say today. Except that I want to go back to the Auvergne region, where this church stands. The more I read about Auvergne, the more pictures I see, the more I want to go there again. Walt and I went there in 2009 and spent a few days in the part of the region called le Cantal. We went back in 2018 and spent a few days in the areas called l'Allier and le Bourbonnais. And finally we went back in 2019 and spent a few days in and around the big town called Le Puy-en-Velay, which was very impressive. Brioude and its church are about an hour north of Le Puy-en-Velay by car. I'm so glad we stopped there in 2019.

The old province of Auvergne is in a geographical zone called Le Massif Central — the central mountains of France. It's not mountains like the Alps; it's more like the Appalachian mountains in the eastern U.S. It's full of picturesque villages with their churches and other monuments. A lot of good cheeses are produced in Auvergne, and it's wine country as well. I don't know when or if we'll go there again, but anything is possible, I guess. Once I get my eyes done and am rid of cataracts, I might like the Auvergne views even better. It's only 3½ hours by car from Saint-Aignan. It would probably be nice to go there in May or in September.

19 March 2024

L'église St-Julien de Brioude en Auvergne

The St-Julien church in Brioude (pop. 6,500), just an hour's drive south of the city of Clermont-Ferrand (pop. 150,000), is classified as a basilica. That's a church that is given special privileges by the Pope. There are 167 basilicas in France, says Wikipedia, and only eight of them are in the Auvergne.

The Michelin green guidebook describes Brioude as une cité animé et coquette located in the Allier river valley in Auvergne. That's how it felt when we were there in March 2019. There was a big open-air market set up near the basilica, and we bought some Auvergne cheeses to bring back to Saint-Aignan. The town was hoppin' and the cheeses were delicious. The basilica se rattache à l'école romane auvergnate..., says Michelin, par ses pierres de couleurs variées, qui lui confère tout son charme...

18 March 2024

Windows at Brioude in Auvergne

One of the best gîte trips we've taken since moved to Saint-Aignan was a trip to the Auvergne in 2019 — five years ago. It was actually our third trip to the Auvergne region starting in 2009, and each time the gîtes were excellent and there was plenty to see all around the region. After those trips the pandemic began and our travels had to be curtailed.

One of the most amazing places we saw (and there were many) was the town of Brioude and its church, not far south of Clermont-Ferrand. According to the Michelin Green Guide for the Auvergne, the church there, le basilique Saint-Julien, is un chef-d'œuvre architectural that is a harmonieux mélange d'art roman et gothique, aux pierres polychrome, magnifié par des vitraux contemporains... Saint-Julien is the largest Romanesque church in all of the Auvergne region, with its population of approx. 1.5 million and area 26,000 km²(10,000 mi²). Saint-Julien was built in the 12th century and is worth the trip.

The windows in this post were put in at Saint-Julien in 2008. They replaced clear glass windows and made the church much more colorful and impressive. It's a place I would love to go back to. It's a three-hour drive from Saint-Aignan.