31 January 2016

Going to Limeray for Touraine-Amboise wines

Last Wednesday was "Winesday" for us. We drove up to the Touraine-Amboise wine production area on the north side of the Loire river, between Blois and Tours. It's a "sub-appellation" that is basically a mirror image of the string of Touraine-Chenonceaux wine villages along the south bank of the Cher river, closer to Saint-Aignan and Montrichard. Here's a link to a map of the eastern part of the Touraine production zone, which includes the Vouvray, Chinon, Bourgueil, Montlouis, and Mesland appellations, among others.

Our first stop was the Domaine des Bessons, right on the border between the villages of Cangey and Limeray. It's a winery we discovered two or three years ago and we've now been there three or four times. On Wednesday, it was François Péquin himself who "received" us and poured us tastes of two wines that we ended up buying. The winery's brochure says that no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used in the Domaine des Bessons vineyards.

The wine that Walt wanted, called Les Silex, was out of stock until the 2015 vintage is bottled in March. It's a very dry Chenin Blanc. Mr. Péquin introduced us to two other white wines, one a fruity, off-dry Sauvignon Blanc called Arroma and the other a late harvest Chenin Blanc dessert white that he calls Médium. Both are sweeter than the white wines we normally look for, but both tasted delicious. We bought six bottles of each, at 6 euros per bottle, for special occasions.

Our second stop was the Cellier Léonard de Vinci in Limeray. It's a cooperative operated by a group of local vignerons to make and sell red, rosé, and white wines made from the grapes they grow. We bought 10 liters of dry Chenin Blanc and 10 liters of Gamay red wine made from what the woman at the co-op called '"pure Gamay-Beaujolais". Both are sold en vrac (in bulk) and we will bottle them ourselves (10 liters is the equivalent of 13 bottles).

We also got twenty liters of red wine in "bag-in-box" packaging, one a Gamay-Côt blend and the other a red vin ordinaire (now called vin de France) made using a blend of two or three different local varieties of Gamay. I'm looking forward to tasting the difference between the two Gamay wines and also comparing them with the Gamay blend that includes some Malbec, which is known as Côt here in the Loire Valley.

30 January 2016


Here's a kind of impressionistic view of the Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire, which is about halfway between the big towns of Blois and Amboise on the Loire River. It's pretty much directly north of Montrichard, which is on the Loire tributary called the Cher. Rain was falling when I took the picture. The château really looms over the village, doesn't it?

There's a modern bridge over the wide Loire river at Chaumont, and on the south end of the bridge is this building. We have driven up there and crossed the river many times — it's one of our favorite ways to get to Blois — and this old hotel/bar/restaurant has been closed for at least the last 13 years, and maybe longer. It's too bad, because the building is interesting.

The building below, on the road between Chaumont and Amboise, is much less interesting-looking, but it appears to be a good restaurant, if you can believe the reviews on TripAdvisor. We haven't yet tried it — maybe one day soon.

Speaking of rain, it's supposed to fall again today. January turned out to be a very wet month, but with freezing temperatures for only a few days in the middle. It's going to end damply.

Finally, above is another house on the Cher river across from Montrichard. Just because I like it. The front door makes it look like it was a restaurant or shop at some point in history. I don't think it's open these days, or has been in quite a while.

29 January 2016

Driving through Montrichard

Montrichard (pop. 3,300) is a small town on the Cher river, in the greater Val de Loire area, that's 10 miles downriver from Saint-Aignan. It's about the same distance south of Amboise, and 20 miles south of the old royal city of Blois. This is the heart of the wine new Touraine-Chenonceaux wine production zone and appellation, and the famous Château de Chenonceau is just 6 or 7 miles to the west.

We drove through Montrichard a couple of days ago and I snapped some photos from the car. Don't worry — Walt was driving. The bridge across the Cher at this spot has retained its medieval look, though it has been rebuilt several times. It was last destroyed by German forces during WWII.

Above is a view of the river and the Montrichard riverfront from the bridge. The river is fairly low right now. The big building on the center right is the Hôtel Bellevue, and you can just see the town's beach on the right side of the image. We very nearly ended up living in Montrichard when we moved here a dozen years ago, but finally chose Saint-Aignan instead.

The old building at the south end of the bridge, which you see directly above and also in the first picture in this post, is now home to a pub called Le Passeur. I've been looking for more information about the building but haven't found anything so far.

28 January 2016

Just a photo

We went out driving around yesterday. The purpose was to go buy some Touraine Amboise wine up in the village of Limeray (pop. 1,250), on the north side of the Loire, across from the town of Amboise.

I took a few photos. There's one of them: it's a building in the wine village of Pouillé (pop. 806), just up the road from us by 4 or 5 miles. It's typical of the area, with its brickwork trim. The building used to be used as the village hall, but that's now moved to the other side of the village. It was spitting rain yesterday morning, and it's supposed to be raining outside right now.

27 January 2016

[’ari ko ko ko]

I soaked them for about 15 hours, and I just saw a recipe on Marmiton that says to soak them for 24 hours. I've never considered soaking dried beans for such a long time. But even after all that soaking — trempage in French — these little white beans still weren't completely cooked in the crock pot after five hours. I cooked a whole kilogram of them — that's 2.2 lbs.

They're called « haricots cocos » or « haricots cocos blancs » — I'm not sure about putting a S on blancs or on coco. The French language is very complicated when it comes to these agreement things, and sometimes trying to figure out how it works seems like a waste of time. Better just to eat the beans, which to me seem to be what we call "navy beans" in the U.S. They are smaller than "great northern" beans and much smaller than French lingots, aka cannellini or white kidney beans. This site says that navy beans are also called "Boston beans, the white coco, pea beans or alubias chicas."

My navy beans finally cooked on low heat  in the crock pot for 10 hours or so, even after the long soak, and they are really good. We had them with some collard greens. I didn't bother making Boston baked beans with the coco(s)... yet. We just ate them as they were, with lardons fumés and sausages, yesterday. I bought three types of sausage, as you can see in the photos: saucisses de Strasbourg (weenies, basically), saucisses de Montbéliard (smoked pork sausages), and a saucisson fumé cuit à l'ail (a big fat garlicky smoked sausage). I think that tomorrow I'll make Boston baked beans with the leftovers.

26 January 2016

What became of the pot au feu

Sometimes you are just too busy to take photos, or not in the mood. Or you take photos and they don't seem good enough to post, to be interesting. That's what happened Saturday, when I made the pot au feu, or French pot roast.

Yesterday I started over. After our lunch out on Sunday, which featured roast venison as the main course, it seemed like we needed something different for Monday's lunch. To the right is what I started with: left over beef, carrots, turnips, and broth.

I put the potatoes away for later.

The rest went into a new preparation: sauce bolognaise, or bolognese, with tomatoes and mushrooms, which I added. The meat was nearly falling apart, so I just shredded it with my fingers (making "pulled beef") and chopped it coarsely with a big knife. I diced the carrots and turnips up very finely.

Meanwhile, I "sweated"  some chopped onions and mushrooms in a big pot in olive oil. To that mixture, I added the chopped beef and diced vegetables. I poured in some pureed tomato pulp and a good amount of tomato paste, along with some beef broth, wine, and spices, to make a meat sauce to eat with pasta.

We served the sauce over penne pasta, with grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. You can make the sauce as spicy as you like, or as thick or thin as you want by adding more liquid (red wine is good). The shredded beef is very tender, and when you eat the sauce you can take comfort in the idea that you are also eating carrots and turnips — not to mention tomatoes.

The pot au feu was transformed and unrecognizable, but delicious this way. We have sauce left for another meal on another day. Maybe on pizza, or maybe in lasagne. Now I have to go get some Mozzarella, Cantal, and/or Ricotta cheese before we start again.

25 January 2016

Sunday lunch with neighbors... sharing news of local doings

Neighbors invited us and another neighbor to lunch yesterday. These are people we don't see all that often — one is the mayor of our village, pop. 1200 — but have known for nearly 13 years now. Lunch was a smoked salmon and avocado appetizer followed by roast venison in a red-wine sauce with chanterelle mushrooms and a wedge of a potato pancake. Then there was a cheese course followed by dessert — tiramisu and chocolate pots de crème (pudding) served in small glasses called verrines, accompanied by tiny lemon tarts and bite-size chocolate cakes.

The photos here are some I took on this date in 2010...

We had local white (Sauvignon Blanc) and red (appellation Chenonceaux) wines with, respectively, the salmon and venison courses, and then a glass of Saint-Emilion red (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) from down near Bordeaux with the cheese course. The cheeses on the platter included Reblochon from the Alps, Gorgonzola from Italy, Brie from the Paris region, and a couple of Loire Valley goat cheeses. It was a 3-hour lunch, including coffee and conversation (in French).

I didn't take pictures, of course. Our neighbors have a daughter who has been living in southern California, with her husband and small children, the past couple of years, so we talked a lot about that and their trips over to the U.S. to visit. They've been to L.A., San Diego, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon. They seem to be really interested in California and the lifestyle out there. They've enjoyed their first experiences driving cars with automatic transmissions. They don't speak much or any English, but they've been able to get by. Actually, their three grandchildren (the oldest is 12), who are of course enrolled in American schools, have become their translators and interpreters.

Yesterday the weather turned beautiful in the afternoon, sunny and almost warm-feeling. The neighbors' living room is a recent addition to their old farmhouse — they converted a garage — with big sliding glass doors on the south and west sides and surrounded by a wide patio. The sun was really streaming in, making for a pleasant change from the gray, foggy, damp weather we'd been having for a week or so.

...except for this 2016 shot of our house and the pond with snow last week.

We also talked about Saint-Aignan and learned a lot about local happenings:
  • businesses including our pharmacy will soon be moving out of the center of town to more modern buildings with big parking lots on the outskirts (near SuperU and the zoo)
  • another boulangerie is closing down, leaving just two in "downtown" Saint-Aignan, where there were five when we moved here in 2003
  • a new restaurant has opened near the "upper" town's big parking lot, the Hôtel de ville, and the Villa Rose, but it's getting mixed reviews
  • an old restaurant, le Crêpiot, is under new management but apparently the quality of the food and service has not suffered
  • a new fast-food place called Patàpain (think Panera Bread in the U.S.) will soon be opening up across the river in Noyers, not far from the relatively new McDonald's over there
The times and the town, they are a-changin'.

24 January 2016

The color is in the kitchen

It was three years ago (already) that the ugly utility pole out by the pond was removed and our wires were undergrounded. We haven't had any significant power failures since then, whereas we had several in the preceding years. Once we were without electricity for about five days because high winds blew down a tree that fell on the wires.

I see from looking at old photos that the weather then looks like the weather now, so all is normal. It's wet and gray here now, but not cold. Most of my photos from the end of January in past years have been of food and cooking projects. The kitchen is where the color is in wintertime in France.

Above is a kitchen photo from Friday. I made a pot au feu — literally "a pot on the fire" — in the slow cooker for Saturday's main meal. Beef, onion, carrots, turnips, and potatoes, with spices and herbs. One of the nicest side benefits of a boiled dinner is the good broth you get for making soups or whatever over the following few days.

23 January 2016

Memories of Washington DC snowstorms

All this talk of "snowzilla" — "snowmageddon" or "snowpocalypse" — in the Washington DC area in the States has me remembering storms I lived through back there, all those years ago. The city could get anywhere from 1 to 3 feet of snow today. Walt and I lived in Washington from 1982 until 1986, and I had spent a lot of time there with friends in the 1970s.

The Georgetown neighborhood in Washington DC with 19 inches of snow in February 1979

In February 1983, I had just started a new job with the federal government, working with CHM on a magazine that was published in both English and French. On Monday, February 10, it started snowing. By the time the snow ended the next day, we had over 16 inches (about 42 centimeters) of the white stuff on the ground. Federal workers were excused from going to work, because the city and its transit systems were paralyzed.

At the time, I happened to own a little 1979 Subaru station wagon that had on-demand four-wheel drive. In other words, the snow didn't really stop me from driving around. Walt and I spent a good part of the day touring the snow-covered city by car. There was no traffic to speak of, of course, and it was a lot of fun. Unfortunately, this was well before the days of the digital camera, so I have only the sketchy memories that have stayed in my head as a souvenir.

My 1979 4WD Subaru wagon

Here's a list of the top 10 deep snowfalls that Washington DC has experienced over the past century. The record, from 1922, amounted to 71 centimeters:

 1.    28.0”  (January 27-29, 1922)
 2.    20.0”  (February 12-14, 1899)
 3.    18.7”  (February 18-19, 1979)
 4.    17.8”  (February 5-6, 2010)
 5.    17.3”  (January 7-9, 1996)
 6.    16.6”  (February 10-11, 1983)
 7.    16.4”  (December 18-19, 2009)
 8.    16.4”  (February 16-18, 2003)
 9.    14.4”  (February 15-16, 1958)
10.   14.4”  (February 7, 1936)

I happened to be in Washington on February 18, 1979 too. That was storm no. 3 on the list above. The first photo in this post shows Georgetown in DC during the 1979 storm. Walt didn't take it, nor did I. He bought it for me as a present in 1983, and we had it framed. It hangs on a wall in our dining room now as a reminder of those snowstorms, which seem to hit Washington with some regularity.

As the February 1979 storm started, a friend was still willing to drive me out to Dulles airport as planned (thanks, Eleanor) in early evening so that I could fly back to Illinois, where I was living at the time. (By the way, we often had big snowstorms out there too — 150 miles south of Chicago). Dulles airport is 30 miles — 50 km — west of central Washington DC. We were about half way there when the car started sliding around because of snow and ice. We slid right off the road and I was sure I would never be able to get to the plane on time — I had to work the next day.

I was able to get out of the car and push it back onto the roadway as my friend spun the wheels in reverse from the driver's seat. We made it to the airport, and I barely caught my plane. It might have been the last plane to take off that evening from Dulles, because the runways were already snow-packed. I worried about my friend getting back to the city, but later she told me that she had been lucky to follow a snow plow all the way back from the airport to her house on the edge of Georgetown.

Our so-called snowstorms here in Saint-Aignan pale in comparison. Think good thoughts for CHM today. He's in Arlington, just outside DC. I hope his electricity doesn't go out because of the heavy snowfall. If it does, he'll be without lights, heat, or Internet access, and who knows for how long... Bon courage, CHM.

22 January 2016

Portraits of us and a smokehouse

I don't have a lot of subjects to blog about these days. It's still too dark and damp for taking good photos outdoors. The garden is in hibernation. Since we hardly ever go anywhere these days, except to markets and supermarkets to do food shopping... well, that limits the range.

This weekend I plan to make a French standard: pot au feu. That's boiled dinner with beef, carrots, onions, potatoes, and, in this case, turnips — just because I like them. Earlier this week I made blanquette de veau. Walt keeps a list of dishes we want to cook so we won't forget the ingredients when we go shopping. There are two things on it right now: English beef Wellington, Spanish paëlla, and French raclette.

You probably think we must both weigh a ton or two, but we don't. It's all in portion control, and the walks with the dog every day are crucial. Walking a lot means I can eat and drink what I want, within reason.

On the left (or maybe above) is a photo of the two of us taken in December by the woman at the restaurant I blogged about a few days ago, Le Moulin de Chaudé in Chemillé-sur-Indrois. If you know us, you'll see that we've aged but we haven't blown up too much.

I do make pulled pork fairly often. I like to always have some in the freezer. The pork is lean and tasty, and it can be seasoned different ways. The French site I linked to in yesterday's post says that most pulled pork is cooked in slow cookers (crock pots) and that might be true these days. It's what I do. But the authentic pulled pork is barbecued — smoked and slow-cooked over hickory or oak embers. Above is a photo of the smokehouse at Wilber's restaurant in North Carolina, my favorite place for pulled pork and hushpuppies. I've been going there since the late 1960s. The photo is almost 15 years old.

21 January 2016

American? Southern? Mexican?

I have more snow pictures, but they all start looking alike after a while. We were busy yesterday, so I didn't take any new photos. Instead, here are some kitchen images. Can you tell what this is?

Not, it's not a cake or anything like that. It's pulled pork. I cooked it — 2.5 kilograms of sauté de porc — in the slow cooker for about six hours. I guess that would be called pork stew meat. Chunks of shoulder and rump of pork. And then I mashed it with a potato masher to turn it into "pulled" or shredded pork. De la viande de porc effilochée. Here's a whole blog post in French about pulled pork. North Carolina comes to France...

As it cooked, I seasoned the pork with hot pepper flakes, a little white wine and vinegar, liquid smoke, bay leaves, some powdered cloves, and of course salt and black pepper. Pulled pork is what is known in my native region in the U.S. as "pork barbecue" or just "barbecue" — with different sauces in the eastern and western parts of the state of North Carolina. In Eastern N.C., people cook whole hogs on a big barbecue grill until the meat is tender and succulent, and then their guests stand around the grill and pull pieces of pork off with their fingers or a couple of forks, put the meat on a plate, and sprinkle on barbecue sauce.

Above is a photo showing what it looked like when we ate some right out of the slow cooker. The first two photos show what it looked like when I pressed it into a dish to store it in the refrigerator for a day or two. The four quarters of the pressed, pulled pork weigh 400 grams each. What we ate directly out of the crock pot was probably about 400 grams too.

A couple of days after I cooked the pork I seasoned some of it with chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, some more hot pepper flakes, and a good amount of cumin, plus a little tomato paste, to make what in Mexican or Tex-Mex cooking is called carnitas. It was good in tacos with some salad, tomatoes, rice, and black beans. Actually, that's what we're having for lunch today: Mexican "lasagne", made with corn tortillas, black beans, steamed rice, pulled pork carnitas, tomatoes, and cheese. I'm already starving.

20 January 2016

Things I saw in a snowy vineyard

It does happen. Here came a car. Some people just drive through on the gravel road, but most of the vehicles we see out there belong to people who tend the vines. That was the case with this one. The driver recognized me and, especially, Callie. We waved as he drove past.

At about the same spot, I noticed this flower in the snow. The ground has stayed very warm since summer, and there were, at least until now, still wildflowers all around the vineyard.

I also noticed a lot of animal tracks. I don't really know what big animal had been wandering around out there. Maybe a badger? The paw print was two or three inches from top to bottom. That's a layer of brown leaves you see on the ground, under the slushy snow.

Here's another paw print. I don't know what this one is either. You might notice that the photo is smudged. A fine, frigid mist was floating in the air, and toward the end of the walk I realized that my camera lens was so wet that the drops of water were starting to, well, drip and run, blurring the photos.

This last shot seems to show the curvature of the earth. Well, not really. The vineyard sits on top of a curved ridge, with deep ravines on either side where streams flow down toward the river when the weather is wet. It was wet yesterday, because the snow was melting on the warm ground. The air temperatures had stayed slightly above freezing overnight and remained there all day. Nearly all the snow is gone now, I think.

19 January 2016

Renaudière snow bis

Here's a picture I took a couple of hours ago out the back gate. Very slushy out there, but still plenty of snow.

The video and photos in my earlier post were all from yesterday. This is a "day after" shot.

Snow at La Renaudière

This is a video view from the kitchen window taken late yesterday morning. We had what would probably rate as a minor snow event, but because we haven't seen snow in about three years it felt exciting.

Here are views from some of our windows. The first one shows the scene at about 9 a.m., when Walt and Callie were just getting home from their morning walk. The snow started while they were out there.

An hour or so later, it looked like this view from a back window:

At here's a view out the north-facing living room window:

I went out and walked the dog in the snow yesterday afternoon. We kind of enjoyed it. As I was nearing the house, walking on the road, a little blue car pulled up behind me. It was our Blois neighbors' daughter and her husband. They said they had had a hard time getting up the hill to the hamlet, but they made it. The house you see in the video clip above is the one they will inherit one day.

M and J-P, who are in their mid-50s, asked me if we don't get bored living up here in the wintertime. It's not the first time they've asked. When her parents pass on and they take possession of the house, I don't know what will happen. I'm not sure they can imagine living in such an isolated place after living for many years in Blois, pop. 75,000 or so. Walt and I don't feel isolated here though. We're only 2 miles from the center of Saint-Aignan, after all.

It's not all that cold out, really. This morning the thermometer outdoors on the side of our house reads 1ºC or about 34ºF. Snow close to the house is melting. It's always several degrees colder out in the vineyard, and I'll be going out there for a walk in an hour or two, when the sun comes up. I hope it won't be too slippery.

18 January 2016

Dessert, and the "menu"

Our meal at the Moulin de Chaudé consisted of an hors-d'oeuvre, an appetizer, a main course, and a dessert. We could have ordered a cheese plate but opted not to do so that day. Here's the dessert that Walt and I had.

It's a pear poached in vanilla-scented cream, caramelized, topped with a sprig of mint, and bathed in a hot chocolate sauce. It was outstanding. The woman who served us brought a pitcher of the hot chocolate sauce to the table and poured some over each pear as we watched and oohed and aahed.

Here's an idea of the other desserts.

As I said, we didn't ask to have the cheese "chariot" (cart) rolled to our table this time. We just moved on to dessert. I think my translations are basically correct:

And after dessert we all had coffee (espresso). It was served with tiny sweet treats called mignardises — fancy little cakes and candies.

By the way, here's how the menu works in a French restaurant. The French word menu is a set price meal composed of several courses. What we call the menu in English is la carte in French, as in à la carte, where you mix and match the different foods you want to eat.

The Moulin de Chaudé offers three "menus" — they're listed above. For about $20, you can have a two-course lunch, with either an appetizer plus a main course, or a main course followed by dessert. If you want three courses — appetizer, main course, and either cheese or dessert — you'll pay about $25. And if you want the whole shebang — four courses, including cheese and then dessert — that will set you back $30 (all prices in approximate U.S. dollars). The least expensive menu, by the way, is not available on weekends or holidays.

The previous menu images I've posted are actually sections of la carte. You can order "à la carte" if you want to, but there's not much point, since you'd pay a lot more. The smoked salmon appetizer alone, for example, is priced at $20 on the carte. That's the same price you'd pay if you ordered the two-course meal. The main courses range from $20 to $26 each. So in effect, there's a discount for ordering several courses instead of just one.

17 January 2016

The appetizers at Le Moulin de Chaudé

The first courses at the restaurant on the lake at Chemillé-sur-Indrois are harder for me to write about than the main courses were. I'm not really clear on what they all were. That day, if I remember correctly, all four of us had the same first course: smoked salmon with a savory herbed waffle.

The salmon is smoked by the chef on site, according to the menu. It was very tender and the smoky taste was not too strong. It was also salted just right, I thought.

Above is the section of the menu that describes the first courses being served the day we had lunch at Le Moulin de Chaudé. Notice that the word entrée in French means the first or "starter" course, and not the main course as in America. I'm embedding some links for anybody who wonders was the highlighted terms mean. Translation:
  • Velvety pumpkin soup with a soft-boiled egg and slow-cooked octopus
  • Terrine of foie gras with jelly and pulp of quince and saffron-scented melba toast
  • House-smoked salmon with a savory herb waffle and Yuzu-flavored fromage blanc
  • Beaumont cheese sablé with pig's trotter and Berry snails in a watercress-garlic butter

There was actually a pre-first-course tidbit served at the restaurant that day. That's called a mise en bouche or amuse-bouche in French restaurants — I think we'd call it an hors-d'oeuvre in good plain English! You have it with your pre-dinner apéritif drink. At Le Moulin de Chaudé, it was a tiny bowl of creamy soup. For the life of me, I can't remember if it was made with watercress or some other green vegetable like broccoli.