31 May 2024

Recent themes

Rain: It rained again yesterday morning and yesterday afternoon. Walt was going to mow the grass with our new riding mower, called un tracteur-tondeuse in French. The model we bought, relatively small one, in France it's called un rider. Anyway, yesterday afternoon's rain made mowing impossible. The grass is still growing rapidly, even though it is basically under control. As for the vegetable garden, I'm afraid we might not be able to have one this year. The garden plot has still not been tilled. Too much mud...

Driving to Blois: I have to drive up to Blois again on Tuesday for an appointment with an anesthetist in preperation for my cataract surgery on June 11. In French, the word for "anesthetist" is anesthésiste, which I find very confusing. it's pronounced [ah-ness-tay-'zeest'], with a slight stress on the last syllable. For some reason, it trips me up unless I'm very careful about pronouncing it. Otherwise, if I accidentally say [ah-ness-tay-teest], people look at me as if I were a Martian or something. On June 11, I'll go back to Blois for the actual procedure (called l'intervention) in French, and I'll be riding in a taxi that my supplemental health-care insurance will pay for. It'll be the same thing on June 25, for the procedure on the other eye. The round-trip taxi ride from Saint-Aignan to Blois costs a little more than 125 euros, so the insurance coverage is a good thing. And I won't have to deal with road closures as a driver. Those will be the taxi driver's challenge.

Renewal of my U.S. passport: Yesterday morning I finally got an e-mail from the American Embassy in Paris telling me that my passport was ready to be mailed out to me. Yesterday afternoon I saw on the French postal system web site that the passport had been put into the system for delivery to me. This morning I see a message that says the new passport is on the way to our local sorting center from which the factrice will bring it to our address. Maybe it will arrive today or tomorrow. What a relief! I was stressing about it because I hadn't been able to follow the embassy's detailed instructions to the letter because the envelopes they specified were not available for purchase at our local post office here in the Saint-Aignan area.

30 May 2024

The visit and the driving

Where to begin? Yesterday with Bob and Norma was a real treat. We laughed as we recounted events in our shared past, which goes back 50 years. We mourned friends passed away, and we compared our thoughts about current events and our plans for the future. We sat at the dining room table for three hours enjoying food and wine together. I didn't take any pictures. That would have been too distracting.

It had been several years since my last drive up to the train station up in Blois. That's where Bob and Norma were arriving after spending a couple of days with another friend of ours in Paris. I set out at about 10 a.m. — after a couple of last-minute delays — to go get them. I was stressed out about the drive. I wanted to take the route I used to drive at least once or twice every year back when I used to travel a lot more than I do nowadays.

Nothing cooperated as I made my way up to Blois. There was road work going on behind barricades in several key spots and I had to backtrack and figure out an alternate route. I didn't want to be late; I had told Bob and Norma I'd be there at the station when their train pulled in. I worried about finding a parking space once I got there. I ended up driving behind a slow-moving behemoth of a big rig truck, along with six or seven other cars, on a narrow winding road and began wondering if I'd ever get to Blois.

When I finally arrived at the station, I found that the parking lot where I had always been able to put the car in the past had been turned into a big pedestrian esplanade. It was beautiful, but at that point I didn't care about esthetics, I just needed to park the car somewhere. I drove past the station and came to an intersection where a red light stayed red for what seemed like 15 minutes. As I sat there waiting and fretting, I suddenly noticed a little sign that said to turn left to get to temporary train-station parking. The temporary lot was kind of rutted and muddy, and it pretty full. After driving around in it two or three times I finally found an empty space.

It turned out that I was in the station about 10 minutes before the train came in. It was a little late. And then there they were. It wasn't raining, thank goodness, because it was a hike to the station from the parking lot.

I decided to take a different route for the drive back to Saint-Aignan. On that route, there's a tricky intersection where you have to turn left to go right or right to go left. I missed the turn toward the right that I wanted to take. It didn't matter so much, because the three of us were in the car, already having a detailed and fascinating conversation Remember, we hadn't seen each other in at least a dozen years.

At some point, I came to another intersection I recognized, but the road off to the right was closed. At that point, I told Bob and Norma I was officially lost. We'd get there sooner or later, I told them, and I had called Walt from the train station to tell him how much road work was going on all over the place so not to worry if we were late arriving for lunch.

After I admitted I was lost, Norma asked me if GPS might be helpful. Probably, I said. She pulled out her cell phone, handed it to Bob who was in the front passenger seat, and he got it going. Two or three road closures later we finally came to the town I wanted to find. From there I knew where I was and how to get to Saint-Aignan. We were at least 30 minutes later arriving than I had thought. We laughed a lot about our bad luck and how narrow and curvy the little country roads were. In France, you can always expect life to be full of adventures.

After our three-hour lunch, Walt drove Bob and Norma back to Blois. It was raining pretty hard at that point. I told him if he'd drive I would clean up the kitchen. It's a deal he said. On his drive to Blois, he had to cope with rush hour traffic coming out of Blois at the end of the workday. And as he was leaving one of the little towns along the way, he suddenly realized that a police car with lights flashing was pulling up behind him. Merde, he thought, as he slowed down and prepared for the worst. But the police car flew right past him without stopping. It was headed toward an emergency of some kind, I guess.

Walt's drive back to Saint-Aignan was uneventful, he said. He took a different route to get back home. So between the two of us we had driven four different routes through the countryside in one day to get to Blois and back. It really was a lot of excitement for us two country bumpkins.

29 May 2024

Our lunchtime visitors

Bob and Norma are coming for lunch today. They are old friends who have been here only once before, and that was more than a dozen years ago. I was an usher at their wedding in 1977. I flew to Connecticut from Illinois for that event, as did other friends who lived in Illinois. It was quite a party. Bob and Norma now live in the Boston metro area and are both retired. They have children and grandchildren In New England.

When Bob and Norma were here in 2011, we went to see the château de Chambord and the château de Chenonceau. We walked around in Blois and had lunch there. This time we won't be seeing any châteaux, except the château de Saint-Aignan as we drive by. We were hoping for weather like what you see below, but no luck.

For lunch, I'm making a blanquette de veau, and Walt is making an apple tart. We'll be having a first course of crudités (fresh raw vegetable salads in vinaigrette) — including carrots, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. We'll also have a cheese course featuring some local cheeses and some cheeses from other parts of France. And some good local wine, of course.

I'll go pick Bob and Norma up at the train station in Blois this morning. The weather is predicted to be cloudy all day, with periods of rain. Then I'll drive them back to the station in Blois in the afternoon, after a leisurely lunch. They'll stay a night or two in Paris before flying back to Boston Friday. It's all too short, but it will be fun and a chance to catch up.

28 May 2024

May 2008: spider webs, etc.

Look at the size of this spider web (toile d'araignée) that I saw out near our garden shed.

Meanwhile, If all goes well tomorrow, friends of ours from Boston and Paris will be visiting us for the afternoon. They are taking the train from Paris to Blois, where I'll go meet them. More about the friends and the visit later this week. I hope the weather cooperates.

27 May 2024

16 years ago this week

I'm going to finish up this month of May by posting some photos I took in a past month of May — 16 years ago this week — around our hamlet and out in the Renaudière vineyard. I can't believe it's been that long, because my memories of that month of May are so vivid. It was a rainy week, and we couldn't plant our vegetable garden until early June because the soil was too wet.
I won't post a weather map today. I'll just tell you the afternoon is supposed to be rainy in this part of France. Rain is predicted for tomorrow too, and especially heavy rain on Wednesday. Oh, and on a cheerier note, yesterday was a beautiful warm, sunny day!

26 May 2024


Vegetables: bell peppers (green, yellow, and red), turnips (white or yellow), carrots, cabbage eggplant, zucchini, celery (stalks or root), chickpeas, onion, garlic, and leeks. In this photo, they are raw. You can add other vegetables, including green beans, cauliflower, broccoli, artichoke hearts, and so on. You can also add chicken, beef, veal, or lamb. Even rabbit or duck.

In this one, the vegetables are cooked. I just put about two inches of water in the bottom of the wok and cooked them on medium heat until they were tender. Test them by poking them with a skewer or a fork.

In the freezer, I already had a spicy sauce made with tomato paste, chicken broth, white wine, and spices. I use a ras-eh-hanout spice blend containing curry, coriander seeds, cumin, carraway seeds, and hot red pepper, all powdered. Serve it with couscous grain cooked with raisins, and with harissa hot sauce. Spicy grilled sausages are good with it too, especially the North African merguez sausages. Add the sauce, which is soupy not thick, to the vegetables along with the cooking liquid they produced.

To read more about couscous, which is a dish I make several times a year, follow this link to a big batch of posts with photos and recipes. Couscous is good when the weather is hot (because it's spicy) and when the weather is cold (because it's hot and nourishing).

BTW, here's the weather forecast for this week. It looks like there will be rain every day. A series of fronts will be coming ashore from the northwest and moving across the whole country, one after the other. Quack, quack.

25 May 2024

Pretty morning, busy day...

Roses in the yard are late this year, but pretty. I'll be back tomorrow.

24 May 2024

What we're hoping for

Here's the kind of weather we are hoping and waiting for. Maybe someday...

Right now, skies stay gray and it rains every day. Sometimes it rains hard, and it usually rains in the afternoon. Mornings are chilly and cloudy. There is flooding up north, but not here. Everybody's complaining. I ran into a neighbor yesterday and his first words were: "Do you think this will ever end?" I do, but I don't know when. Actually, forecasts are for a relatively sunny, warmer weekend. I hope they are accurate. But more rain next week...sigh.

This is the forecast map for this afternoon. The red dot shows where Saint-Aignan is — south and west of Paris and just east of Tours. The little white specks all over the map mean (a chance of) hailstones.

23 May 2024

Beans, duck, and sausage

This is white beans with green peppers and tomatoes, served with confit de canard (duck legs slow-cooked in duck fat), and grilled chipolata sausages (fresh, mild pork sausages). Some duck fat also goes in with the beans. Don't overdo it, but don't underestimate the flavor in that fat either. Other seasonings are just onion, salt, and pepper. I used canned beans that are imported from Portugal, and confit de canard also out of a can.

22 May 2024

Pineapple upside-down cake

Yesterday morning I made a pineapple upside-down cake for our afternoon dessert. Here's a link to a post about such a cake that includes a recipe. Instead of pineapple rings, I used a can of pineapple chunks that I had bought out of curiosity. They and the cake turned out to be excellent. Bon appétit !

21 May 2024

An omelette filled with roasted red bell peppers, etc.

Yesterday for lunch we had an omelet filled with roasted red peppers, diced tomato, sautéed onion, sautéed mushrooms, a chipolata sausage (pre-cooked), and grated cheese (Cantal cheese melts well, as does Cheddar). With it, we had sautéed potatoes cooked in the air fryer. It was fittin'.

20 May 2024

Roasted bell peppers again

I made another batch of air-frye roasted bell peppers over the weekend. Walt bought the peppers at the supermarket. There are red ones and yellow ones. I just wanted to show you how they fit in the air fryer, which the product specs say has a capacity of five liters. After the peppers have collapsed and started getting slightly charred, the skin peels right off. Then the peppers have to be cut open and all the seeds and need to be removed. Save the juice they release and pour it over the peeled and seeded peppers. Follow this link to read an old post I did about the process.

19 May 2024

Yesterday's party

I've mention the neighbors' cousinade a couple of time over the past few days. A cousinade is a family reunion for a group of people who are cousins, including their spouses, children, or grandchildren.

Look how many cars there were parked in the neighbors' yard. I can count between 20 and 25, and there may have been some parked over on the other side of the neighbors' house. We watched the cousins arrive and get out of their cars, so we know there were some cars with two people in them and others with four or more.

The hosts and guests were lucky, because even though it wasn't very warm and dark clouds looked threatening, the rain held off. We only had a couple of light showers over the course of the afternoon. The neighbors' house isn't big enough to accommodate a crowd like that. They had put a big barnum (party tent or marquee) up in their yard under which they could sit and not get wet if the rains came.

A sit-down lunch was served outdoors, and I imagine there was enough food for a light outdoor dinner too. The last guests left at about 11 p.m.

18 May 2024


I found this message from the U.S. State Department in my Gmail inbox a few minutes ago.

Application Status: Approved

The U.S. Department of State approved your application for your passport book. We're now printing your passport book and preparing to give it to you.

You requested routine service when you applied. Routine service can take 6-8 weeks. Our processing times begin the day we receive your application at a passport agency or center, not the day you mail your application or apply at a local acceptance facility.

You should receive your passport book on or around 05/23/2024.

Whew. I gave you the good news first. Today's bad news is that I've noticed a new leak from all rain we've been having for the last six months. Now we're going to have to find a roofer. The last one we contracted with has gone into retirement, as far as I know. I'll have to call him and see if some other roofer has taken over his client list.

17 May 2024

Saint-Aignan : the old and the new

I got busy this morning and forgot to publish my blog post before now. The pictures here show the oldest part of the Saint-Aignan château complex. The white stone donjon (keep or tower) is about a thousand years old. The building with its roof burned off was an 18th century (I think) convent. The roof has now been replaced (as at Notre-Dame de Paris).The weather is beautiful right now and our neighbors who live in Blois are having a party tomorrow. It's a cousinade (a kind of family reunion) and somewhere between 70 and 80 people will be in attendance.

16 May 2024

Saint-Aignan miscellany

I'm posting miscellaneous pictures today. They are still photos I took in May 2017. A lot of things have changed since then, but as they say in France: plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same). For example, the bridge in Saint-Aignan (above) is being refurbished. I'll be interested to see what it will look like when the work is finished in a month or two. The shop below used to be a charcuterie, and then it became this shop,  and now it's changing again. Because of the Beauval zoo the the crowds of tourists it atracts, businesses are constantly changing.

15 May 2024

Saint-Aignan shops and restaurants

Above: Le Mange-Grenouille (un restaurant) — Au Bigouden (une crêperie) — une boucherie/charcuterie

Below: La Pâtisserie du Château — Sur le Pont (un restaurant/pizzéria) and its menu