22 July 2017

Flan pâtissier au lait de coco

Yesterday I made what is called a flan pâtissier (a kind of custard tart or cream pie) using coconut milk instead of cream. It's a recipe you can find here, on La Cuisine de Jackie, in French. I've adapted the recipe for American cooks, substituting vanilla extract for the vanilla bean in Jackie's recipe and converting the measurements to U.S. cups.

Flan pâtissier au lait de coco

1 pie crust
1 liter of coconut milk
150 g sugar (⅔ cup)
100 g cornstarch (1 scant cup)
3 eggs
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. dried grated coconut
1 Tbsp. rum (optional)

Mix the cornstarch into ¾ cup of cold coconut milk, stirring well.

Bring the rest of the coconut milk to a simmer. Stir in the vanilla extract.

Separately, beat the eggs with the sugar. Add in the cold coconut and cornstarch mixture. Then gradually pour in the hot coconut milk, stirring constantly. Add the grated coconut and the rum (optional).

Pour the mixture into a saucepan and set on low heat, stirring constantly with a whisk until well thickened.

Line a pie pan with the crust. Pour in the coconut milk mixture. Bake for 30 to 45 minutes at 325ºF (160ºC). Keep an eye on the flan for the last 15 minutes of cooking to make sure it doesn't get too browned. Serve cold.

The coconut custard tart is delicious, even if I do say so myself. Thanks to Jackie for the idea and recipe. (The term "custard tart" always makes me think of Lionel Hardcastle on the British comedy series As Time Goes By.)

A U.S. cup, by the way, is 8 fluid ounces (240 ml, or less than half a pint in British terms). You can use less sugar than my recipe specifies, but don't use less cornstarch. You can also try using two whole eggs and one yolk rather than the three whole eggs I put in. Oh, and I bought a crust — pâte sablée — at the supermarket. You could easily make the flan with a different crust or no crust at all.

21 July 2017

Fleurs bleues

The Renaudière vineyard is just full of these blue flowers right now. The hot dry weather we had for a couple of months must have been ideal conditions for them. The flowers are one of several that are commonly known as cornflowers.

The plant that flowers this way is actually wild chicory. It's closely related to the salad greens that we call "curly endive" and "Belgian endive" in the U.S. Bitter salad greens like radicchio and escarole are also closely related to it. Wild chicory is native to Europe, but has been naturalized in North America, China, and Australia.

By the way, I'm throwing in this photo of yesterday morning's sky over the vineyard because of how blue it is too. I mentioned hot weather up above, but we're in a cool snap right now. It feels almost chilly outside this morning, and yesterday I had to put on jeans and a long-sleeved shirt before I went out walking with Natasha.

 Back to the flowers — why are they called "cornflowers"? It's because they grow on the edges of fields of grain, and the British word "corn" just means grain. In America, "corn" is maize, which is also called "Indian corn." In France, the wild chicory plant is called — surprise! — chicorée sauvage. It's also called chicorée amère — bitter chicory — because its leaves have a bitter taste.

In the middle ages, the wild chicory plant was considered to have magical qualities. It was used to blunt or quell the human libido. In other words, it was understood to be an antiaphrodisiac. The French wikipedia article lists 13 varieties and subspecies of wild chicory. One variety gives the chicory that is added to or substituted for coffee.

20 July 2017

Flowering hens

Sempervivum tectorum, commonly known as "house leeks" or "hens and chicks", just keep spreading in our back yard. Right now, they are flowering. Sempervivum means "always living". They're called joubarbes in French, or Barbe de Jupiter. Some people refer to them as petits artichauts.

I have them planted in pots, planter boxes, and  concrete blocks all around. Some are growing directly in the sand and gravel that surrounds the house as a kind of patio.

Sempervivum plants are the kind of plants I like. They are hardy. Drought doesn't bother them. Freezing weather doesn't hurt them either. They seem to love heat and full sun. They survive and spread gradually without being invasive.

This species is native to southern Europe and North Africa, apparently. They obviously also thrive in the Loire Valley climate. They grow on rooftops and were thought in ancient times to protect houses from lightning strikes.

The first ones I had were given to me by a woman who lives on the other side of the village. G. is nearly 90 years old now, and she doesn't get out and about as much as she used to. I thank her for these plants, which I've been growing for a dozen or so years now.

19 July 2017


It was 90º up in the loft space yesterday afternoon, and 95º on the front terrace. Fans couldn't do us much good because it was hotter outside than it was in the house. It's a dry heat, however, so sleeping conditions weren't too bad. Predictions say to expect a thunderstorm today, with a high temperature in the mid-80s (all temps in ºF). Maybe the house will cool off a little.

The little sheltie puppy Natasha continues to be impeccably well-behaved on our walks in the vineyard. She runs up and down the rows of vines but comes to me whenever I call her. Yesterday she got a good look at a deer, and she ran after it for a ways through the vines. Then she came back to me when I called her. That was a real test. Walt says he thinks it was Callie the collie who showed Tasha how to behave on walks.

Our kitchen window and the terrace are both festooned with bright red geraniums this summer. They're plants that spent the winter in the new greenhouse and did very well in there.

18 July 2017

Said the spider to the ’fly...

It's hot here again. Yesterday the temperature up in the loft got up to nearly 90ºF. What a summer we are having. This morning at 5:45 a.m. it's 77ºF — 25ºC — in the house, with all the windows and doors open as wide as possible. There's not a breath of air stirring. I just turned on two electric fans.

Sunday morning I took my camera out on the walk with Natasha. I took a bunch of macro photos, and here are four of them. I was taking a photo of a Queen Anne's lace (wild carrot) flower when I noticed there was a white "crab spider" sitting on it, camouflaged.

Crab spiders are fierce hunters, apparently, but the butterfly below had nothing to fear from the spider above — it was too far away.

It was not very close to me either, but I was able to get these two photos using the zoom lens on my camera. I tried to get closer to the butterfly, but it fluttered away each time I approached.

I didn't even know whether I had managed to get a photo of the butterfly until I got home and displayed these on the computer screen. The butterfly has some wing damage from an encounter of some kind. As usual, you can enlarge the images by clicking or tapping...