21 September 2017

Supermarket bread

The ingredients are: wheat flour (origin EU) 56%, water, sourdough leavening, wheat gluten, salt, yeast, malted wheat flour — farine de blé (UE) 56%, eau, levain de seigle, gluten de blé, sel, levure, farine de blé malté. That's what is printed on the wrapper.

Yesterday I bought bread at the Intermarché supermarket across the river in Noyers-sur-Cher. I had seen it advertised in the store's weekly flyer, and there it was. It's worth a try, I thought. I've bought bread there before, and at SuperU — pain aux noix (bread with walnut pieces in it), pain de campagne ("country-style bread" because the village baker doesn't make it), pain de mie (sliced sandwich bread, which the village baker also doesn't make, as far as I know). But not often.

I didn't look at the ingredients in the Intermarché bread until I got it home and spent time examining the package. I was pleasantly surprised. No preservatives, gums, or chemical emulsifiers are listed. I learned too that the bread is baked in the store daily (cuit sur place tous les jours), which obviously means that the dough is not made by the people who bake it. It's probably brought in frozen, but I can't swear to that.

The village baker is an artisan boulanger, which means he makes his own dough every day and bakes it himself. The ingredients listed on his bread wrappers are flour, yeast and/or sourdough, salt, and water. Of course, it doesn't say what flour or flours are used.

The Intermarché bread is on sale at a special price right now. If you buy three baguettes, you get two for free.  The price? For five baguettes, you pay 2.50€. Compare that to the baker's price of 1.10€ per baguette, or 5.50€ for five. I think the supermarkets — SuperU in Saint-Aignan has similar bread at similar prices — are really going after the local bakers. There's also a new chain restaurant over in Noyers called Patàpain that specializes in bread, other baked goods, pizzas, and salads. That's more competition.

This is a tricked-up picture. It's the same baguette four times.

As I've said before, people's preferences in bread are very personal and subjective. A lot of older people around here grew up eating baguettes ordinaires, which are, like this supermarket bread, what they call pain industriel in France. It is softer and whiter than what now is called pain de tradition and doesn't have the same flavor. But it's what many bread-buyers want. This supermarket bread is much more in the traditional style, but it's still industrial. And to tell the truth, it's pretty good. We ate one of the loaves yesterday and the other four went into the freezer.

20 September 2017

Il n'a pas réfléchi...

Yesterday I talked to the woman who has been delivering our bread every week for a couple of years now. It was her last tournée (delivery run). I told her we were very disappointed with the baker's decision to end the service. We've been customers since 2004, but we're more likely to buy bread elsewhere now. The bakery is bound to lose a lot of customers.

Bertie the cat and Tasha the puppy don't seem to understand what all the commotion is about.

"He didn't think this through," Véronique said, candidly, about the baker's decision. "Other customers have been telling me the same thing you're saying. They don't see themselves making a special trip down to the village center just for a loaf of bread. They'll buy bread at the supermarket in Saint-Aignan or Noyers, or at one of the other bakeries that they drive by when they go out to do their grocery shopping." I think that's what I'll end up doing too. The only other businesses in the village center are a café-newsstand-tabacco shop, a hair salon, and a post office.

Véronique said she has had 88 regular stops along her route this year, and that, like us, the people who live in those houses have mostly been buying a baguette or two — or some other bread — every time she comes by. It seems like that would be profitable for the boulanger. Maybe he's a proud man who thinks the bread he makes is so good that people will just drive to his shop every day for a fresh loaf. I'm afraid I won't. I'm too busy to take the car out that often just for a loaf of bread.

I made stuffed tomatoes yesterday.

The baker's letter makes it plain that he will still deliver bread and other baked goods to people who can't drive or walk to the bakery. He especially wants, his letter says, to continue the service for elderly people. But they will have to sign up and then phone in their orders. Until now, the "bread lady" drove up, blew her horn, and you went out and bought whatever you wanted out of her van. You could also place a special order for things like croissants or sweet pastries, and she'd bring them on her next visit. I hope people who depend on the service might be able to put in standing orders for deliveries on a regular basis and not have to telephone the bakery every few days.

Here's the letter we got in our mailbox.

We have plenty of freezer space right now, so we can buy three or even six baguettes at a time, cut them up, and freeze them. We already do that on a smaller scale because our deliveries were cut back to just three times a week last year, and we often buy two or three baguettes at a time. We try to remember to take bread out a couple of hours before lunchtime every day so that it's thawed, and then we heat it up for four minutes in the oven. If we need to, we can thaw bread quickly in the microwave using a special setting for that purpose. It works really well.

19 September 2017

Oven-roasted zucchini spears

It's not quite as cold this morning as it was yesterday morning. The thermometer reading right now is between 10 and 11 in ºC, but the temperature normally keeps dropping until 7 or 7: 30 a.m. (it's 6:30 right now). Despite the cold mornings, we're still harvesting tomatoes — I'll be making stuffed tomatoes today for lunch — and zucchini squashes. That's what this post is about.

Oven-roasting is a really good way to cook zucchini spears. What I did was cut the squash in half across the middle, and then cut each half into six or eight spears, leaving on the green skin. The spears were about 5 inches long. (Those are potatoes on the left and zucchini spears on the right — in the photo below too.)

Next, make a mixture of bread crumbs (panko, in this case) and grated Parmesan cheese — half a cup or more of each, in equal quantities. Add some dried herbs including thyme, oregano, tarragon, or parsley and, finally, some black pepper, cayenne pepper, garlic and/or onion powder, and salt. You can vary the herbs and spices to your taste.

Pour a little olive oil in a wide, flat dish. Put in the zucchini spears and turn them to coat them with oil. Then dredge them in the crumb and cheese mixture and put them on a baking pan skin-side down. Set the pan in a hot oven and let the zucchini brown for 15 or 20 minutes. Cook them more or less time depending on whether you want them crunchier or softer.

I added some potato spears made with potatoes that I had partially cooked in a steamer pot. I did them the same way as the zucchini spears. You can see them in the photos — their color is lighter. All the spears were delicious. We ate ours with a couple of chorizette sausages (beef, lamb, and pork) and a red and yellow tomato salad with feta cheese.

18 September 2017

Bad bread news

We got some bad news on Saturday. Our bread delivery service is being cancelled effective this week. We didn't get much notice in advance. The new baker in the village, who arrived a year or two ago, has decided not to deliver his products any more. We'll have to fend for ourselves, bread-wise, for the first time since 2004. This is a disappointing development.

I probably won't be seeing our village baker's bread wrappers much any more. The fact is, to buy bread it will make a lot more sense to go into Saint-Aignan or across the river to Noyers-sur-Cher than to drive into the village. It's the same distance either way, and the supermarkets, banks, and other businesses we depend on are in the two larger towns. There's not much in the village besides a café, where I never go, the post office but there's one in Saint-Aignan too, and the salon de coiffure, where I go get a haircut four or five times a year. There won't be any reason to make a special trip down there — not just for bread.

Anyway, I get the impression that more and more local people are buying their bread at the supermarket. I see a lot of shoppers leaving the supermarket with armloads of bread. Both SuperU and Intermarché have recently starting selling higher-quality baguettes de tradition rather than just the baguettes ordinaires we could find there previously... and at lower prices, if you buy them three at a time.

Our village baker makes good bread, but the end of the delivery service will give us a chance to enjoy the bread made by the five other local bakers in the area. We can keep bread in the freezer and thaw it out day by day to have with our meals. We can also make our own breads, including French bread, pizzas, or cornbread.

Here's what the village baker's wrapper says about the traditional baguettes he makes:

based on
your baker's

To make a truly traditional French baguette, your baker uses only flour, water, salt, either yeast or a sour-dough starter... and the best of his savoir-faire : kneading the dough slowly, letting it rise for a long time, shaping the loaves by hand, and cooking the bread for just the right amount of time. This daily discipline gives the bread a unique, traditional flavor and color, and a crunchy crust.

17 September 2017

Cold, hungry, busy

Our heat is on this morning and the radiators are hot. The thermostat is set at 18.5ºC, which is about 65ºF. The temperature outside is 10ºC, or 50ºF. Remind me again... isn't it still summer on September 17? Not here.

Hungry, already, at 6:15 a.m. Here are a couple of photos of a recent pasta dish we made with zucchini, tomatoes, and basil from our 2017 vegetable garden, and some whole wheat bow-tie pasta and chipolata sausages. I don't yet have a plan for today's lunch, so I have to get busy on that.

Meanwhile, I don't have a lot to blog about (as you can tell) because I've spent hours yesterday and this morning making travel arrangements on the internet. A sudden trip to North Carolina in October is coming together. My mother is moving from one apartment (which she has lived in since 2005) to another within her retirement résidence or complex. I want to be there to help her move and get settled in the new apartment.

Making the travel arrangements has involved a long phone call (including what seemed like hours on hold) to my bank in the U.S., because somehow I typed a number wrong when I was paying for my Air France plane ticket and the bank put a security hold on my Visa card. I had to talk to three different bank employees, ending up with somebody in the security department who asked me dozens of questions to verify my identity and finally lifted the hold on the card.

Besides the plane ticket, I have reserved a train ticket for the ride from here to CDG airport north of Paris; a hotel room for one night at CDG airport; and a car rental at Raleigh-Durham airport in North Carolina. I typed more carefully as I was making all those reservations and everything went through smoothly.

Now before I leave Walt and I have a lot of garden and yard work to finish, including cooking and eating or processing the rest of the produce out in the garden (tomatoes, squash, beans, chard...). I have to see my doctor for my semi-annual checkup and call Amélie to make an appointment for a haircut. I'll be busier than usual, that's for sure.