22 January 2017

A Sunday intermission

I slept late this morning. I didn't get out of bed until nearly six o'clock. (Walt and I recently realized that we never really adjusted our sleep schedules to deal with the change from heure d'été to heure d'hiver this year, though we did adjust our lunch hour.) Anyway, I'll continue the naturalization series this coming week. The process is nowhere near finished, so there's plenty of time. The next post will be a foray into the jungle that is local government terminology in the U.S.

Walt mentioned on his blog yesterday that we went to Blois on Friday. That was a trip to meet with the translator who created official French-language versions of our U.S. birth certificates and other documents. Everything is now translated and heavily adorned with official seals and stamps of one kind or another. After the meeting, we had time left over Friday morning to go shopping at the Asia Store near the train station in Blois and replenish our supply of Asian sauces and special ingredients like okra, Shanghai bok choy, and frozen raw shrimp.

So for lunch yesterday we made a stir fry of  bok choy, okra, carrot, onions, mushrooms and shrimp, inspired by this NY Times recipe. I made a mixture of hoisin sauce, sweet Japanese hon mirin cooking wine, soy sauce, Thai sriracha, grated ginger, and mushroom-flavored soy sauce as the seasoning for the stir fry. It turned out to be really delicious (with steamed rice).

Recently (and one time not so recently) we have been making Chinese steamed buns, which are a real treat. They were something we enjoyed eating in San Francisco, which has hundreds of good Asian restaurants. Here's a link to an explanation and recipe.

The buns are a dim sum dish. They are a flour dough leavened with both baker's yeast and baking powder, then filled with a savory stuffing, and cooked in a steamer pot. For the filling, I made some slow-cooker pulled pork flavored with some of the same sauces that went into yesterday's shrimp and vegetable stir fry. We ate the steamed buns with a stir fry of collard greens and roasted winter vegetables.

21 January 2017

Naturalisation (2) — apostilles

[Here's a link to the first installment of this series.]

I knew the short form of the birth certificate wouldn't satisfy requirements in France because we'd already been caught in that trap. Walt's short form certificate had been accepted in Blois when he applied for his carte de séjour but rejected by the health insurance system here a few years later. He'd obtained the long-form document on one of his trips to Albany NY, translated it, and taken it to the health insurance people, who were then happy with it.

When we looked carefully at the birth certificates we had been able to get in North Carolina (example on the right) and in New York, we realized that they were pretty much illegible in many places. They had to be translated. How would a translator be able to decipher them? On the N.C. documents, it was handwritten information — people's names, signatures, place names — that was unreadable. On the N.Y. documents, it was the printed matter on the form itself that was illegible, because it was in such small type and the copies, made from microfilm, were of such poor quality.

Besides all that, we had to get special authentication papers called apostilles for every document we were going to submit. You can only get those in the states where the documents originated, but not at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, because the U.S. federal government does not keep records of things like its citizens' births, deaths, divorces, and marriages. Those are matters left for the individual states to deal with, and the U.S. states don't have embassies and consulates in other countries.

We had never before been asked to have apostilles for our birth certificates. During all those years when we turned in birth certificates and information about our financial resources, nobody at the local government level had ever required or even mentioned them. The apostille is a document that resulted from a treaty signed by European counties including France, along with the U.S., Australia, and Canada, as a way to guarantee that documents handed issued on one country and handed over in another really are authentic and are not counterfeit. It's a special kind of international notarization, and the French national government in Paris and the court system requires them.

To get the apostilles, I had to take or send my and my father's birth certificates, for example, to the office of the secretary of state in Raleigh, North Carolina. An official there would draft and sign the apostilles. In each case, the apostille I ended up getting was glued to the birth certificate to prevent the two pages from being separated. Each one required payment of a $10 fee by certified check or money order.

I was not aware of any way able to get a money order or a certified bank check in U.S. dollars here in France. So I had to do all that in N.C., or have somebody do it for me. On one of my trips, I mailed everything in rather than make the 300-mile drive to Raleigh and back from my home town. The original documents are mailed back to you if you send in a self-addressed, stamped envelope. In France, I didn't have any U.S. postage stamps, or any way I knew of to get any. So I had to go get them in the U.S. as well. For my mother's South Carolina birth certificate, the process was the same, but the fee was just $2.00. By the way, it's interesting that apostille is a French word but there's nothing in French on the document itself.

There was one other solution. There are outfits that will obtain the apostilles for you and mail them to you in France. The one we contacted in New York wanted $200.00 per apostille. Yikes! We have nine apostilles for nine separate documents at this point. The fee was too high.

Walt had the same issues for New York, or worse. Remember when I said that his parent's birth certificates were stamped "For genealogical research only"? They weren't certified, legal copies, because he was not allowed to obtain certified documents for his parents. It's the law there. And when Walt was in Albany, he learned that for uncertified documents you can't get an apostille.

The solution was for him to draft sworn affadavits to the effect that the genealogy research copies were, to the best of his knowledge, his parent's authentic birth certificates. Those, along with his own birth certificate, had to be authenticated and notarized at the county level, and then he could get apostilles from the state government office in charge of issuing them. Isn't it strange that one branch of the state government wouldn't issue an apostille for a document from another office of the state government unless it had first been authenticated by the county government?

Walt was lucky that he was born and grew up in the New York capital city, Albany. He was staying with friends and family there. All the state government offices are there. We don't really know if our parents' birth certificates need apostilles, but we know ours do. It was better to get the apostilles for everything while we were in the U.S. rather than find out later that we needed them and would have either to pay a large fee to get them sent here, or make another trip to the U.S. to get them.

The next step would be to get everything translated into French. We couldn't do the translations ourselves. They had to be done by a court-accredited translator.

More tomorrow...

20 January 2017

Naturalisation (1) — birth certificates

Walt and I packed up and moved from California to France 14 years ago. For the first 6 years we were here, we were temporary residents on a year-to-year basis. In other words, every year we had to re-apply for what is called a titre de séjour by sending in our birth certificates with translations into French, proof of our address, and, mostly, proof that we had enough money to live on here without seeking employment.

Then in 2009, I decided to find out if we could get a 10-year carte de résident which would let us avoid all the paperwork and uncertainty of the yearly application for permission to stay in France. I had read that foreigners living here legally had the right to the 10-year resident's card after five years on the year-to-year plan, but nobody in the département offices at Blois had ever explained this to us, and they hadn't automatically offered resident's status in 2008, when I thought they should have.

In 2009, I picked up the phone and called the office in Blois that regulates foreigners' immigration status. The woman I got on the phone, after it rang for 5 or 6 minutes, was helpful and polite, if sounding slightly harried. She said to me, Monsieur, do you have a retirement pension? I was 60 years old at the time. I told her that I would start receiving retirement benefits from the U.S. in two years' time, and that I would also begin receiving a small French retirement pension when I turned 65 in 2014. Write us a letter explaining those details, the woman said, and we'll see what we can do.

With some help from a neighbor who had recently been elected mayor of our commune (village), we soon had our 10-year resident's cards, which would be good until 2019. We sometimes talked about applying for citizenship, but for a while I thought I didn't see the point. Then in 2012, when it became legal, we went to New York and got married. I started thinking about what would happen if one of us died or became incapacitated and how the other one of us would manage. Who would inherit the house in France? What taxes might be assessed on the inheritance? Would the survivor's residency card be renewed in 2019?

So we started thinking about naturalization — becoming French citizens. Our marriage was recognized in France in 2013, when le mariage pour tous became law here. We were able to draft wills spelling out our final wishes and file them with a local notaire. By then, though, we had started pulling together the documents we needed for our naturalisation applications. First, we needed our parents' birth certificates. Walt's mother died when he was eight years old, and he didn't even know where she was born, except that it was in New York State and probably not far from Albany, where he and his father were born. I didn't have that to deal with, since my mother is still living, and I knew my father's birthplace.

Walt found out where his mother was born by inquiring at the NY Department of Health in 2012, where records are kept. That's when he learned that, in New York State, a child does not have the right to apply for official, certified copies of his or her parents' birth certificates — even if the parents are both deceased. The best the state bureaucracy could do was to give him copies that carried a big red stamp saying "For genealogical research only." For certified copies, he would have to go to a judge in New York and make his case for having a legitimate need for the official documents. That would mean another trip to New York, because it was too late at that point to get a court date right then.

In my case, my mother was able to go to the courthouse in the county where she lives, and where I grew up, and easily obtain copies of my (deceased) father's and my own birth certificates — no questions asked. (I figured I might as well have a new copy of mine.) But my mother herself was born in South Carolina, so we had to apply for her birth certificate down there. I read about the process on the internet, and I learned that, even as her son, I was not allowed to request my mother's birth certificate as long as she was still living. I had hoped to be able to apply for it by mailing in the application and fee.

My mother said she wouldn't mind driving to the area in S.C. where she and my maternal grandfather were born, and which is a five-hour drive from where she lives. It had been 20 years since her last visit there. We did the drive in 2013, when I was back in North Carolina for a visit, and we stayed overnight. My sister and my mother's sister came along for the ride, and we ended up seeing some of our S.C. relatives while we were there. It was fun.

When we arrived in the local county seat, however, we were disappointed to learn that birth records are not kept at county courthouses in South Carolina, as they are in North Carolina, but by the state's department of health. Luckily, there is an outpost of that agency in the larger nearby town of Rock Hill (near Charlotte, N.C.). We turned around and drove over there. And we learned that the local health department office was only able to provide us with what is called "the short form" birth certificate, which I knew would not satisfy the French authorities. Getting the long form would require a three-hour-roundtrip drive down to Columbia, the state capital. We didn't have time for that.

[Here's a link to part two of this series.]

19 January 2017

Eight years ago

This is a photo I took in Paris in 2009. Barack Obama had been the U.S. president for six months, and we were still excited and optimistic about our country and the world. I remember the all-nighter we pulled on that election day.

It's a little harder to keep hope alive in 2017, but as president Obama says, we're going to be okay — with a little luck. Want a cliché? It's always darkest before the dawn.

18 January 2017

Le toutché de midi

The temperature this morning is negative four degrees C. That's the mid-20s in F. The thermometer in the greenhouse reads positive three degrees C, so that's working out fine. I turned the electric radiator on in there a few minutes ago anyway.

Yesterday for lunch I made a kind of quiche called « un toutché ». It's also called a « gâteau de fête » or « gâteau de ménage ». Instead of a regular pie crust (pâte brisée), this egg custard pie has a crust that resembles brioche — made with a dough that contains eggs, butter, milk, and cream. The recipe comes from Franche-Comté in eastern France, and it is not really well known in the rest of France.

The toutché is made as either a sweet cake or a savory pie (those are links to recipes). The simplest savory version is made with an egg custard and smoked pork lardons. I "enhanced" that by adding some chopped onion and some cooked kale. I had picked and cooked kale on Monday in anticipation of our freezing temperatures this week. I also added a little bit of grated Comté cheese for flavor.

The dough for the toutché shell rose in the (unheated) oven, protected from drafts, for two hours, and it basically doubled in volume. To line the pie plate, you butter it first and then put the ball of dough in the middle of it. You don't need a rolling pin — you can just use your fingers to spread the dough out in the pan. Form a good tall edge all around to hold in the egg and milk custard.

Spread the dry ingredients (lardons and, optionally, sautéed onion and cooked greens) on the crust and pour the custard mixture over them. Then bake the pie in the oven at 180ºC (350ºF) for about 30 minutes until it's golden brown on top (see above).

You are supposed to eat the toutché either warm or cold, from what I've read. We ate it more or less hot as our main course at lunch yesterday. We didn't have a salad because we figured the kale took its place.

17 January 2017

A big chill

This morning the temperature is about 2ºC below freezing — that's about +28ºF. This is the coldest morning we've had since January 7, and it's the first time since that date that we've been below freezing.

I went to check the greenhouse when I got up at 6 a.m. It was +3ºC in there. Not too bad, I think. The geraniums, jade plants, and other green things in there look okay at this point.

Even so, I set up an electric radiator in the doorway to provide the plants with a little more warmth. We've had this convection heater for a dozen years, but we've  hardly ever needed to use it. I think I paid 15 euros for it way back when.

Half an hour after I turned the radiator on, the temperature in the green house had gone up by a whole degree C. In other words, it's getting close to +40ºF in there.

It's supposed to get colder and colder until at least the end of the week, so in addition to keeping the door between the (unheated) utility room open all the time, I'll turn the electric heater on low to make sure the plants don't freeze.

16 January 2017

Callie la charmeuse

I think Callie smelled the turkey. I had just taken it out of the oven and snapped a few photos.

She flashed her most winning smile, hoping that she might get some.

15 January 2017

Glazed turkey — the January diet

Before Christmas, when capons and turkeys were on sale at promotional prices, I decided to buy a turkey for the freezer. We'd cook it in January, I said to myself. Well, here we are in mid-January.

To make the roasted turkey something different from a Thanksgiving or Christmas bird, I made a glaze for it. It's not really a recipe. You start by melting a good amount of butter. To the melted butter, add a teaspoon or so of Worcestershire sauce, two tablespoons of Louisiana hot sauce (Portuguese piri-piri sauce is a good substitute), and one tablespoon of vinegar (wine or distilled).

Season the butter mixture with salt and black pepper and ground cloves, along with some garlic (fresh or powdered) if you like it. Let it cook for five minutes to blend the flavors. Then brush a good coating of glaze on the turkey before you put it in the oven. I also put two bay leaves and about a teaspoon of dried thyme inside the turkey.

I roasted the 3-kilogram turkey slowly for 3½ hours, on a rack in a pan with some water in the bottom. I started the oven at 160ºC/325ºF, gradually lowering the temperature over the course of the cooking time as the turkey browned, until it was down to just 100ºC/210ºF for the last 45 minutes.

I basted the tukey with the butter glaze half a dozen times during the cooking, until the glaze was all used up. And then, toward the end, I basted it with the cooking juices in the bottom of the pan, which hadn't burned because I had replenished the water several times. The turkey was tender and moist when we ate some at lunchtime. That's a good thing, because we'll be eating turkey for days.

14 January 2017

Osso bucco — with veal

Yesterday I made osso bucco, the Milanese veal dish — and with real veal, not turkey or some other substitute. It had been years since I'd cooked, or eaten, osso bucco made with veal shanks. I think it was in San Francisco. I see a 2013 post on this blog showing a turkey osso bucco that I made back then.

It's all because I went grocery shopping at SuperU a few days ago and I noticed that they had two packages of sliced veal shank for the price of one — about half-price, in other words. That's hard to resist. It was very pretty meat too. In total, it weighed just a little less than 2 lbs. (850 grams). I think it cost about six euros.

The first step in making osso bucco is to finely dice the aromatic vegetables that will go into the sauce — a big carrot, a medium onion, a stalk (une branche) of celery, two cloves of garlic. And then cut a couple of strips of zest (rind) from a lemon and the same from an orange. Put everything but the zests into a pan with some olive oil or melted better, on low heat, and "sweat" the vegetables for 10 minutes or so.

Meanwhile, dredge the slices of veal shank in seasoned flour. Shake off any extra and don't let the veal sit very long before browning it in frying pan on medium-high heat. You want the flour to stay dry and then brown lightly.

Set the veal aside and deglaze the pan it browned in with a cup of dry white wine. Before pouring in the wine, you can spoon some of the oil out of the pan if you think there's too much of it.

Then pour about 350 ml (1½ cups) of either chicken, veal, or vegetable broth and the same amount of tomato sauce (or chopped tomato) into the pan and let all that cook together for a few minutes.

Place the browned veal slices on top of the sweated vegetables in the other pan, and then pour the sauce from the frying pan over all. It should be just enough to barely cover the veal, which should be in a single layer. Adjust the amount of sauce as necessary, using less or adding water if you need to.

After you've poured the sauce over all, set the pan in a slow oven (say 150ºC, 300ºF) for two hours or more (see the top photo above). Add a couple of bay leaves, a pinch of thyme, and the zests of orange and lemon. Cover the pan tightly. Check it a couple of times per hour to make sure there's still enough liquid, adding some water to replenish what has evaporated and keep the veal moist.

Serve the osso bucco with rice or pasta. The veal bone marrow will have mostly melted into the tomato-vegetable sauce, thickening it. The flour you coated the veal in before browning it will also act as a thickener. The citrus peels will add an extra burst of flavor to the dish. The meat will be tender and succulent. We enjoyed it.

13 January 2017

Vegetables en conserve

When it comes to vegetables, en conserve means canned. I do use canned vegetables. Beans, for example. Green peas, called petits pois in French. Tomatoes. Certain vegetables keep a good taste and texture after undergoing the canning process.

Petits pois, for example. Fresh peas are not available year-round. People buy them in cans or jars, already cooked and sometimes seasoned. Peas and carrots. Peas and mushrooms. I bought a six-pack of canned peas a few weeks ago because they were a well-known brand on sale at a good price and we can have them all winter, cooked with either fresh carrots or fresh mushrooms, which are available year-round.

It helps if the peas are treated nicely by the companies that process and pack them. For example, the peas I bought don't contain any chemical additives, just salt and sugar. And the instructions on the can say that they should be drained before being cooked and served (à égoutter avant utilisation). Rinsing them is a good idea too, to remove extra salt and sugar used in the canning process. Then you can put in fresh water or your own broth when you cook them. With some butter too, of course, and a lettuce leaf or two.

A few years ago, I was talking with a British friend — the woman who left Bertie the black cat with us when she moved back to England seven years ago — and she tossed off a comment about French food that I remember. "The peas you get in France are very good," she said. "Even the ones in tins are delicious." I had always thought the same thing. An Englishwoman should know. When I was growing up in North Carolina, we called green garden peas "English" peas, to distinguish them from our local "field" peas like black-eyed peas.

12 January 2017

Pumpkin “pie” — pizza pie

I have some more to say about canned food in France, but first, here's a pizza topped with spicy pumpkin purée, smoked chicken, bell peppers, and alpine cheese. It was Walt's idea, and he made it while I was out shopping yesterday morning. We both enjoyed eating it.

I'm saying pumpkin but what Walt used on the pizza was actually the puréed flesh of a roasted sucrine du Berry, which resembles a butternut squash. He seasoned it with hot pepper powder, onion, garlic, and dried herbs. It replaced the tomato sauce you would usually put on a pizza, with the other toppings spread over it.

The smoked chicken was one that I bought at Intermarché a few days ago to have with a batch of choucroute garnie (sauerkraut). We had half of it left, so I de-boned the breast filet and shredded/chopped the meat. The bell peppers came frozen from the Picard store over in Romorantin, and are a mix of red, green, and yellow peppers. They're an excellent product. Walt said he sauteed them with just a little bit of honey to caramelize the strips of pepper.

11 January 2017

Just open a can...

I've been eating a lot of food out of cans over the past two or three weeks. Strange, isn't it? I love to cook, but I also like to try foods in a lot of different forms and packages to see if they're good. It's a kind of a sanity check to see how your own from-scratch cooking compares.

Of course, one of the foods I've bought in cans (or tins, if you prefer) is slow-cooked duck legs packed in southwestern France. They are kind of a luxury item — not on the scale of duck foie gras (fattened liver), but not cheap either. I showed a photo of the duck legs in my blog post yesterday. Above is the can our New Year's Day duck came in. Below is another brand I bought to have later, in the spring.

One reason I've bought duck legs in cans is because I haven't found them lately in the shrink-wrap (sous-vide) packaging they often are sold in here in France. What's the difference, really, between canned products and the trendy sous-vide packs? I have to admit that I've also been attracted to the big cans of canard confit because they've been on sale at about half-price (seven to eight euros for a can containing four or five nice plump duck leg-and-thigh pieces).

And look at the ingredients. There's nothing added, if you can believe the label. No additives, I mean. It's just duck legs, duck fat, and salt.
Here's the label in English. It also gives cooking instructions. You can use the duck legs in cassoulet (with white beans, etc.) or serve them with lentils. Or with Sarlat-style potatoes, which are cooked in duck fat. Or other ways — all delicious, I'm sure.

I made my "fusion" cassoulet-style Jan. 1, 2017, dinner using black-eyed peas and duck legs. There are cultural reasons for that — superstitions about what will bring good luck for the new year — but also personal preferences. I would be unhappy with a black-eyed-pea-free diet. I guess it's partly what you grew up with. But if you want to go all the way in France, you can just buy your cassoulet in a can (above). It can be very good (and not cheap) if you buy the real thing, cooked and canned in SW France and containing white beans (think of Italian cannellini beans — white kidney beans), duck confit, and Toulouse sausages.

This year, I cooked my black-eyes with smoked duck lardons. Normally, lardons are chunks of what is called lard in France, which has not much to do with American lard (saindoux). French lard would go by the names bacon or pork belly in the U.S. But lardons are a concept nowadays as much as a specific product in France. They are little chunks of meat, often smoked or brined, that go into vegetable dishes, stews, omelets, or quiches as a flavor ingredient. There are chicken, turkey, and duck lardons on the shelves of the supermarkets here in France.

10 January 2017


Your pantoufles are your bedroom slippers. If you are pantouflard, you are somebody who wears pantoufles more hours every day than any other kind of footwear. Another, less "familiar" (informal) adjective meaning the same thing is casanier (describing a person qui aime à rester au logis, according to the dictionary). In American English, we might call such a person a "homebody." (Or maybe a hermit!)


That describes me and Walt, I guess, especially in the wintertime. If it's not freezing cold outside, the landscape is probably enveloped in thick fog. Or it's raining. (Actually, snow showers are predicted for the coming weekend.) Our sorties dehors are limited to walks with the dog or quick trips to the supermarket. It's just enough to keep us from suffering too much from "cabin fever."

Confit de canard : Duck legs cooked and packed in duck fat, taken out of a can and browned in a hot oven

Cooking and doing wintertime jobs like converting all my movies on DVDs into MP4s occupy a lot of my time right now. In past years, I've converted our thousands of recipes from an obsolete format into either HTML files or PDFs, to make sure we can continue to view them when we want to. Another year, I did our whole music collection, "ripping" some 500 CDs to tranform the tracks into MP3s. It keeps me busy, and feeling productive.

Black-eyed peas with smoked duck lardons, leeks, and a couple of Toulouse sausages

Vivement le printemps ! as we say — I can't wait for springtime to get here. I know, winter just started... Right now it's time for me to go out walking with the dog. It rained overnight, but I think it has stopped raining now. Or I hope so, anyway.

09 January 2017

Campagnes TV — et un gratin d'endives

There's a French TV channel called Campagnes TV that we started receiving on our CanalSat satellite system last year. We watch it during the day as we are busy on our computers, slowly making lunch, doing housecleaning... whatever. The shows on Campagnes TV are about rural life in France, which is what we are living.

Every once in a while a segment about cheese-making, cooking, or farming will catch our attention. Since the channel plays the same shows over and over again all week, we don't miss anything if we get too busy. And if we see a report or a whole show that turns out to be fascinating, we can always record it later and see it again.

Cooking endives in chicken broth with slices of whole lemon

One of the shows I enjoy the most is called Du Champ au Fourneau — "From the Field to the Stove." (You can see that the word fourneau is related to the English word "furnace." Je suis aux fourneaux ce soir means "I'll be doing the cooking tonight.") There's a really interesting show about raising ducks for foie gras, confit, and magrets (breast filets) on YouTube, plus a lot of other Du Champ au Fourneau episodes. Another source is the Campagnes TV site itself. I don't know if you can play the videos on the Campagnes TV "replay" page — if you try viewing them outside France, let me know if they work or not. Please try it.

The finished produce — gratin d'endives au jambon with a cream sauce

The other day I really enjoyed a show about making un gratin d'endives au jambon, which is one of my standards — what we Americans call "Belgian endives" first cooked, then wrapped in a slice of ham, and finally baked in the oven in a cheese sauce. The show included segments on raising pigs for pork, making ham, and then growing endives on a commercial scale.

Endives and grated cheese wrapped in ham and bacon

In it, I learned a new way to make the endive dish. It doesn't involve a cheese sauce, and the endives are cooked not in white wine with butter but in chicken broth. I had just bought a kilo bag of endives at Intermarché (for the princely sum of €1.29), so I was off like a shot to make it. Instead of a cheese sauce, it uses sliced or grated cheese in the "endive roll" and then calls for wrapping them in ham and bacon before cooking them in the oven.

Endives « Perle du Nord » from near Soissons in northern France

As it happened, the endive processing facility featured on the show was the one that packed the brand of endives I had bought. The recipe was demonstrated by a chef who either owns (or works in) a restaurant in Paris called Le Pavillon Montsouris and located on the edge of the Parc Montsouris, near the Cité Universitaire. The restaurant is on my list now... I'll see if I can find or download the segment of the show where he makes it.

08 January 2017

La galette des rois... façon Walt

I'm watching yesterday evening's CBS news right now. The British Sky News channel, which we receive on our CanalSat system, sometimes shows the U.S. news on Sunday mornings at 6:30. They just showed reports about the weekend's terrible weather on both the east and west coasts of North America. Snow and ice from North Carolina up into New York and New England. A foot of warm rain falling in California, melting the deep snow on top of mountains and threatening major flooding and landslides. It all makes our weather here in Saint-Aignan seem ridiculously mild and pleasant.

Meanwhile, we've been enjoying our annual galette des rois, the traditional "king cake" made and eaten in France to mark the holiday called the Epiphany — the 12th day of Christmas. It falls on January 6 and in some countries and cultures, is celebrated as Christmas. On North Carolina's Outer Banks, it was called Old Christmas and people there used to observe it instead of December 25. I imagine that's ancient history these days. According to legend (and St. Matthew), the three Wise Men, les Rois-mages in French, followed a star and arrived in Bethlehem bearing gifts for the new-born Christ Child on January 6.

The galette des rois is a cake made of puff pastry (pâte feuilletée, also called "flaky pastry" and used to make croissants) filled with almond cream (made with butter, almond powder, and an egg). You can see the illustrated recipe in this 2009 blog post. Walt makes it all from scratch, and it's an all-day process because the dough has to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes between each of half a dozen foldings and rollings to make the pastry's characteristic layers and crunch.

07 January 2017


This is the coldest morning of the winter so far here in the Saint-Aignan area. The temperature on our outdoor thermometer reads –3.5ºC. That's about +26ºF. Our outdoor thermometer is in a relatively protected spot on the north side of the house and reads a little high most mornings compared to reports we get on different weather sites on the Internet. I think this qualifies as a "hard freeze" — une forte gelée. Tomorrow the morning low temperature is supposed to be back above freezing, however.

One of the weather sites we consult lets people post the current conditions where they live. It's météociel.fr, and right now somebody in Blois, 25 miles north of Saint-Aignan, is reporting a temperature of –4ºC, and somebody over in Romorantin, 20 miles east of us, is reporting –9ºC (+16ºF). I don't know why it is often so much colder over in Romo, but it is. Other observers say it's –8ºC up in the Orleans area, 60 miles northwest of here.

The temperature in our recently built greenhouse is +3.3ºC (38ºF), with no extra heater on down there. The plants look fine. With the door between the greenhouse and the utility room open, the utility room is colder than it would be otherwise, but the greenhouse is warmer. It works for us. Outdoors, it's cold, but the Tuscan black "dinosaur" kale (above) doesn't seem to be much bothered by the freeze.