Friday, November 28, 2008

Deja Vue all over again.

Still catching up. Here goes.
We had not one, but two Thanksgivings this year. For reasons explained in an earlier post we had our first Thanksgiving on last Thursday, the 20th. For that one we had 12 people and the menu was very traditional. Here are a few pictures:
 (mainly during the prep stage as later I was too busy serving & eating to take pictures.)

So the menu was: Curried pumpkin soup with curry croutons followed by roast turkey ( I deconstruct my turkey by cutting out the backbone, taking off & deboning the legs then cooking them separately. Last year's Thanks giving post goes into great detail on this technique) with a sage & forcemeat stuffing, lots of vegetables and a gravy made from the turkey stock. Friends brought us fresh cranberries so we had a wonderful, but simple cranberry sauce.We then had the cheese course you can see pictured above. 
(bursin,brique de vache, cantal-entre-doux, cratin, chaurce and blue de pays). 

Desserts were a carrot cake that I made & a delicious cranberry & mincemeat pie by Linda.

Between our wine & some superb stuff brought by our guests we had some great wine. 14 bottles of it in fact!

A good time was had bt all. The French maybe don't quite understand the holiday, but they certainly relate to the occasion and the food.

Yesterday we celebrated our second Thanksgiving. Just 6 of us. Linda's sister & her husband and a pair of English friends who live locally part time.


The world's best potato chips. Made in Spain, hand made. Yummy!

The menu was simple, but different this time. We like the curried pumpkin soup so much that we had it again. The main course, however, was Beef Wellington. Friends from the states had brought us a whole filet of beef. So, as you can see abouve Linda did the whole Wellington bit: fois gras, sauteed mushrooms, madeira sauce and a puff pastry case. It was absolutely superb! The beef was excellent and perfectly cooked. Nice & rare in the middle bits as I like it, but closer to medium at the ends for others. We had sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts and broad beans as vegetables.

Dessert was as below. A simple chocolate mousse. Sinful, but delectable.

I think I like the idea of two Thanksgivings you get to see more friends & family that way. I hope your Thanksgiving was as joyful as ours!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


Got a bit of catching up to do as I've been busy. But I'll start with what happened yesterday.

It started simply enough. I went off yesterday morning to drive down to Carcassonne to pick up my brother & sister-in-law from the airport. Its a 2 hour drive, but they can fly into Carcassonne very cheaply on Ryanair. So there I was trundling down the Autoroute trying to understand some kind of intellectual debate on the 'Culture" station & only half succeeding. (Very intellectual that station with high flauting French & tenses I hardly know exist). All was well.

Then I arrived at the payage entering Toulouse. I always go through the lane where you pay with your French debit card; its quicker than going through one of the cash lanes & I don't use the Autoroute enough to justify one of the autopay systems. I'm constantly amazed that the French banking system can handle these tiny transactions; the toll is like $3.00, but it does and doesn't cost me anything. Anyway, this time the machine didn't like my card. I tried again, still didn't like it. A message came up saying "Your card is unreadable, try again of use a different card" So I blew on the card, rubbed to on my sleeve and tried again. It worked this time so off I went not thinking much about it.

I drove around Toulouse and picked up a new ticket as I left. Had a nice unevertful drive down the Autoroute to the CArcassonne exit. I was right on time to hit the airport just as the flight arrived. Put my card into the reader & it didn't work, tried again, still no luck, tried the blowing & wiping trice, that didn't help either. Tried more times, nope. The same 'illisable' message kept coming up. In desperation I pushed the red help button. (By now a couple of cars were behind me so I couldn't even back out. Needless to say they were getting impatient. I put my emergency blinkers on to indicate trouble.) The red button phone was answered. I told him the the mechine wouldn't read my card. I thought that somebody would come to help out, but no such luck. I started trying all the cards in my wallet. USA cash card. Nope! British cash card. No such luck! I even tried my carte Vital (French helth card) No Joy!
Finally I remembered my American Master card that I rarely use. Success!!! It worked!! I was through.

Got to the airport in time & picked up my relatives & headed home. Called Linda to say they had been on time & that we were on our way. She asked me to stop & pick up a couple of things from the store. OK. No problems at the payage with my mastercard. By now I've had a chance to look at my French debit card & to see that there's a large scratch on the magnetic stripe; no doubt this is why it won't read.

By the time we got to Montauban I was very low on gas. This was expected as I'd planned to stop for gas on the way home. Problem is that I like to buy my gas at the big Hyper markets since they're at least 10 cents a liter cheaper than anywhere else. BUT, they only take cash &, you guessed it, debit cards. Not to worry, we'll stop at the big Leclerc, do our bit of shopping and get cash from the machine there. I did have a 20 Euro note & some change; enough for the bit of shopping, but not enough for much gas.

As we drove into the Leclerc parking lot the range indicator on my car was reading 7 miles left. We're just about running on fumes, but we're OK. We go into the store and head straight for the cash machine. There it is - spead out all over the floor with a technician working on its innards. We'll get no cash here for a while. I think about for a bit & remember that there's a branch of my bank about a mile down the road. So we do our shopping & head there. Luckily I spot a cash machine that's even closer. It likes my American cash card & condesends to give me real cash money. Back to Leclerc & their cheap gas (1.05 Euro per liter. Only about $4.50 a gallon. & you think you're badly off. )

Fill the car & head home. No more drama's occur thank goodness.

My first action upon arriving home was to call my French bank and ask them to send me a new card. Think I'll deal in cash a bit more from now on. This cashless society works great -- most of the time!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Disappionted - so far that is

So far Its been a disappointing year; for mushrooms that is. I love mushrooms and look forward every year to the fall crops.

First come the ceps. I've never had much luck finding them, but no matter its fun to buy them from the old boys who only turn up at market when they have ceps (or sometimes truffles) to sell. Their prices are good and they're fun to talk to if you can get past the accents. This year, however, to was too dry for too long & there weren't many ceps about. Only a few & those at silly prices. I do love my ceps, but not at 23 Euros per kilo! There were even some at a commercial stall from Belorous! A long way & they were pretty tired looking. Unfortunately, its dried ceps only this year.

Next come the field mushrooms or I should say usually next come the field mushrooms. Not this year. The only ones I've seen were last Friday when I played golf. There were lots on the course. I didn't pick any as I thought it wouldn't be quite right. (It would have been more rewarding than my golf which was even more terrible than usual that day) Beside I know where there are quite a few fields that support field mushrooms including our very own field. This year, however, so far no luck. Still its not too late so I live in hope.

To console myself I'm going to make roast chicken with mushroom & tarragon sauce. You might want to try it as its easy to do & quite delicious. Here's what you do.

  • Buy some chicken pieces. I like to use the leg/thight piece (cuisse in French), but you can use just legs, just thighs or even breasts if you want to spend more money.

  • Pre heat an oven to 180-190 degrees Centigrade. Put the chicken pieces in a roasting pan and season them with salt, pepper, garlic granules (or garlic salt, but if so don't use any regular salt) and herbs de Province. Be generous with the garlic & herbs.

  • Roast until nicely done, but not dried out. This should take 45 minutes to one hour. Its a good idea to start the chicken pieces with their skin side down, then turn them over about half way through cooking. A little basting won't go amiss either as it will help crisp up the skin.

  • While the roasting is going on slice up some regular commercial white mushrooms & if you have them rehydrate some dried wild  mushrooms. (ceps are great as are morilles) After 15 minutes squeeze out most of the water from the dried mushrooms..

  • Take the chicken out of the oven when done & set aside to rest. Immediately put all of the mushrooms in the roasting pan & place the roasting pan ove high heat. Stir the mushrooms well to coat with the pan juices. Then stir frequently until the mushrooms are just barely cooked. They'll turn color & get a bit soft, but hold their shape. DO NOT COOK UNTIL THE MUSHROOMS GIVE UP THEIR WATER!!

  • Pour a generous amount of full cream into the roasting pan & mix well with the mushrooms. Cook quickly to slightly reduce the cream (by quickly I mean no more than 3-4 minutes). Now add a small handfull of fresh tarrogon & stir. (be careful as tarragon is quite strong & will overpower the other flavors if you use too much. If in doubt add a bit at a time & taste until you're happy that the tarrogan flavor is there, but not over powering.)

  • Plate up the chicken pieces and pour the sauce over. Serve with your choice of vegetables.
This simple dish is very satisfying, looks good and tastes delicious.

If only I can find some field mushrooms the sauce would be even better! I'll keeo looking, believe me.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Village life - ain't it great

More village events this Sunday. This time it was the formal opening of our new village library.

Sorry, Its no longer just a library its a media center. Or at least that's how I translate Mediatheque! You can judge for yourself on its website. Which is This was done by Michell our local guru.

 Note that we have an English section in the library with over 400 books. Also note that the libraries of several of the local villages cooperate by sharing their book lists so you can check out a book from any of them & return it to any other. Neat huh?

As they always seem to do the local builders did a great job in renovating the building. It was pretty derilect before they started, but now is very modern inside with class & meeting rooms as well as the library. Outside its very much in keeping with the village style. Located just behind the school & Marie its very convienent.

You may remember that the one English canidate for the town council didn't quite make it in the election. Well, she's now running the library! And I'd say off to a great start (even though she upset the incumber 'librarian' who oversaw the little old library in the Marie, but that's local politics isn't it) what with an English section, computer classes going and so much demand that there are two set of English classes going for the children with lots of adults wanting in as well. This could well turn out to be a real special resource for our village.

It was great to see somewhere between 50-75 people turn out for the opening. The usual suspects made speeches, The Mayor, a politician from the Department and, of course, the new head of the library. (very nervous, but she made a good speech in French!) We had a specially written peom and a reading from a local author. (he reads beautifully!)

That's what I like about village life. Nothing dramatic, but everyone pretty much pulling together to make things better. The apero wasn't bad either.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

New beginings?

I don't normally get into politics on this blog, but at this historic moment I can't resist. I promise not to make a habit of it. Also, I'll try not to offend anybody. First a bit of history.

I was in the US Air Force stationed outside of Madrid when John Kennedy was elected. I can still remember the hope and excitment he generated. I can still remember, and yes still cry, when he made his 'ich bin ein berliner" speech. I still remember as does anyone over a cetain age where I was when he was assinated. In my case I was on an airplane on my way back home to the states when our pilot announced the news. Welcome home!! To this day I can't remember the trip from New York on to my parents home in California. I can still remember my shock to discover how many Americans did not like John Kennedy. You see, he was idolized by Europeans and non-Americans around the world. I just couldn't believe it. 

I quickly found out how polarized our country was politically. There was or seemed to be no middle ground. You were either against the war & a left wing hippy or you were for it and a member in good standing of the John Birch Society. There was no room for a balanced political attitude. Or at least that's how it seemed to me. I didn't want to bring my daughters up in such an atmosphere and was lucky enough to move back to Europe where I stayed for 15 years.

My point is that it seems to me that in many ways we have a parallel situation today. The politics of polarization are back. The middle ground seems to have eroded away. People seem anchored into their positions. There are a lot of 'true believers' out there - on both sides. George Bush will leave a terrible legacy that will probably take years to overcome.

Now, Barak Obama seems genuine when he talks about change and about bringing people together. I wish him luck and goodwill; he will need both to unite the country. If, that is, its even possible. What I fervently wish is that he can capitalize upon the unprecedented goodwill he has with people around the world.

This is where I see a real opportunity. Like John Kennedy he has the opportunity to change the world for the better. Kennedy never realized his promise because his life was cut short. Obama assuming that he survives (I hate to say that, but assination is a real threat in my eyes) has a similar opportunity. The world is hoping for a better day; it is hoping that Barak Obama can lead the changes necessary and hoping that America can be in practice what it promises in theory.

I won't presume to tell him what to do. Some things are obvious. Close the horrible prison, get out of Iraq as gracefully as possible, leave Afganistan to the Afganistanis, stop Iran & North Korea's nuculear ambitions. Those things are obvious even though not easy. For the rest he will need to try to persuade Europe to step up to its responsibilities (for too long they have tried to have it both ways.), practice some tough love with Mr. Putin, encourage the Chinese to take on a wider positive role in the world (probably only they can really bring North Korea to heel), stop most of the ridiculous positions past policy has had in the Western hemisphere (its long past time that Cuba was treated like a neighbor.) and do whatever is possible to bring Africa into the modern world politicially. (tough one I know). Its a huge agenda, but most of it can mainly be accomplished by just sticking to what's made him so popular in the first place. A clear message for change, for inclusion, for a degree of humility on America's part and constant & clear communication which will abet the goodwill he has accumulated.

Barak Obama, like John Kennedy before him, has the gift of gab. He is a suberb orator, his words have the power to move people. I hope he will use that gift wisely.

That's my political post. I'll probably do no more. As an American abroad I have high hopes that with our new President we can once again begin to become a positive example. I'm heartily sick of having to apologise for my country.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Order Early!

Ignoring the election until later I did something essesntial today. I ordered our Thanksgiving Turkey. 

Now, you may think its a bit early, but here in France its not. You see the French like turkey, but as they don't celebrate Thanksgiving (unless that is they happen to be friends of ours. Our Thanksgiving dinner has become a minor tradition amongst our friends. La fete de Bonne Merci Donnee sort of) all of the butchers & super markets and turkey growers aim to have turkey's ready by Christmas. Thus, you won't see turkey anywhere except in flocks running around the local turkey growers plots in November.

For the past several years we were OK because our wine making friends Sarah & Dave's children raised turkeys amongst the vines in order to raise some holiday spending money. We could rely on them to feed up an 'early bird' so to speak. This year, however, Sarah said she couldn't find anywhere to buy the turkey chicks & besides a fox had moved into their vinyards. So no turkey, not even a chicken left!

Back to the drawing board. Fortunately, there exists in Villefranche a specialist shop, Au Fin Bec. They do nothing but birds. I went in today and was able to persuade Madam that I really did need a turkey on the 18th of November. After many mumbles about how it might not be ready and might be a bit small & scrawny she agreed to have it ready the monring of the 18th. I'm sure it will be delicious as the turkeys here really are very good.

Why the 18th you may be asking? Surely Thanksgiving is on the 27th this year. You are absolutely right, but this year we're celebrating a week early on the 20th & I wanted a couples of days leeway on the turkey. We're celebrating early because some dear friends have sold their house (just managing to sell a house at all is cause for celebration!) and are over closing the deal that week. As they won't be here for Thanksgiving on the proper day we decided to have an early celebration as a way to gather all of their local friends together for a proper send off. Since they are the only other 'local' Americans the rest of our friends aren't the least bit peturbed that we're a week early. So long as I serve my notorious four legged turkey and make carrot cake they're happy.

But that's another story. The turkey appears elsewhere on the blog  I think.

So - if you are in France order early. If you're back in the states think of us on the 20th!