Cornbread & Sunday Sunshine

As I record my cornbread recipe, it has become increasingly overcast and a light drizzle moistens the air. Not so this morning. When I looked out an upstairs window, the day was delightfully bright, crisp, and shiny.

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April 7, 07h57

With my first cup of coffee, I processed yesterday’s cooking pictures. Going downstairs to fetch another cup, I took my camera with me for a delightful stroll among our newly sprouting green stuff. That gave me the opportunity to mingle pictures of sauteed onions with those of delicate vine leaves to make my¬†recipe a little more adventurous.

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Saturday’s kitchen session revolved around Southwest flavors which we miss over here in France quite a bit. That is until we discovered a French online business called “My American Market” where we now order things like creamed corn and Rotel chile&tomatoes, not to mention pancake mix and, yes, Cheetos.

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The 13 ingredients for my cornbread, 14 if you count the eggs individually ūü§ď

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Firstly, combine the dry ingredients:

  1. 1 package Jiffy corn muffin mix
  2. 1 rounded cup cornmeal
  3. 2 tsp baking soda
  4. 1/2 tsp salt
  5. 1 rounded Tbl crushed, toasted cumin seeds
  6. 1 tsp powdered cumin seeds
  7. 1/2 tsp¬†piment d’Espelette

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Then add the moist ingredients:

  1. 10 oz of the creamed corn
  2. 4 Tbl Rotel tomato-and-chile bits without the liquid
  3. 2 eggs, lightly beaten with 1 Tbl of Rotel liquid & some freshly ground nutmeg
  4. 2 Tbl honey
  5. 2 Tbl olive oil
  6. 1/4 cup finely shredded cheese [Comté in my case]

Blend well and pour into the baking dish of your choice. I decorated the top with the remaining creamed corn and coarsely chopped cheddar cheese.

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Using a convection oven, I baked the cornbread at 180¬ļC/350¬ļF for 10 min, lowered the temperature to 150¬ļC/300¬ļF and continued to back for another 30 min. The bread wasn’t quite done, so I added a few more minutes at 180¬ļC to finish the center and get a nicely browned top.

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While the bread was in the oven, the skirt steak¬†for our fajitas needs to be marinated. Some good quality olive oil, fajita seasoning, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, dried herbs, piment d’Espelette – or whatever comes to mind or happens to be laying around your pantry.

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We brought that olive oil back from San Sebasti√°n in January, it’s delicious.

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Looks like we might have some figs this year!

Meanwhile, it was time to slice and dice the vegetables, green and red bell peppers, yellow and red onions, and a little garlic for the fun of it.

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As usual, I sautéed my onions first by themselves at a low temperature to let them gently caramelize, before I added the peppers, garlic, and flavoring.

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When all the veggies were pretty much ready, I turned up the heat and added the juice of the zested lemon for a fruity finish. Truth be told, this kitchen version of fajitas, both the meat and the vegetables, is pretty much a lame second choice. Real fajitas should be charcoal grilled, nicely charred, and dripping with Tex-Mex flavor!!

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Our Clematis growing steadily over the pergola support.

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With a little avocado and a drizzle of balsamico, it was pretty tasty, nevertheless.

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A lot of Color & a few Beans

Fall Colors

In just a few hours, clocks will go back to standard time here in Europe. A good time, I thought, to celebrate another seasonal change, leaf color. We don’t have majestic maples nor delicate aspen around us, just vines. Vines and assorted evergreens.

Fall Colors

So let’s immerse ourselves in some crazy vines, shall we?

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

 

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Fall Colors

Fall Colors

Fall Colors

All that color made me hungry. Let’s whip up a quick and nutritious meal. Quick, that is to say, if you remembered to soak the haricots Tarbais for a few hours in the morning. Should you have forgotten, that’s alright, too. Bring the beans to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes. Drain and start again with fresh cold water. To flavor the cooking water, I like to use a small “pot” of vegetable bouillon.

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In the background, a portion of frozen chunky tomato sauce with yellow onions that I made a while ago for future use.

 

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We still had some dried Espelette chiles laying around, two of which I boiled with the beans to soften them. I could then scrape out the meat to be mixed with salt and olive oil for a spicy condiment to enliven all sorts of tame and boring foods.

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After about an hour and a half, the beans were done. I separated them into one bucket for some other time and a nice, smallish portion for our dinner. Those I pan-fried in duck fat with a few bacon bits and a lot of Curcuma and white pepper. the Curcuma [an immune system boosting root in the ginger family, also called Turmeric] turned the beans quite yellow. Such a lovely fit with our colorful post!

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Beans, sauce, and fettuccine are ready to go, let’s eat!

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Happy Autumn, my friends!

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Coal Fish without Capers

When we moved into our new home in April, our green space, a courtyard garden between the house and the street had been maintained only in minimal fashion for some time. The previous owners had long moved to Spain and stayed in Cognac only sporadically. It fell to a neighbor and avid gardener to do the most urgent tasks whenever he could. Since he knew the garden so well, we had arranged with him to become our gardener of record. But soon after we moved in, he fell ill and outside of two brief sessions, he was never again able to continue the necessary work.

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Throughout the summer, always hoping he might be able to return, we watched the already unruly plants get completely out of hand. the vines grew over the barn shutters and invaded gutters and soffits, threatening the integrity of the tiled roofs of the barns. The poor cypresses drooped every which way with heavy loads of cones, and the mushrooming rosemary population proliferated beyond reason. It was high time to take action!

On the dot of eight on a greyish morning, a three-man crew of the “Thomas Espaces Verts” garden maintenance company arrived with their heavy equipment.

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Some of the work was quite precarious, especially at the laurel hedge along the wall to our neighbors. It had grown through the mesh cover of the pergola by several feet.

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Trying to scrape the vine tentacles off the white façade Рwith partial success only.

By 16 hrs, the job was nearly done and the agile monitor lizard went back on its trailer pad.

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That left only the clean-up of bits and pieces which the guys accomplished with the same professionalism they had shown all day, aided by leaf blowers and rakes, before driving off into the sunset.

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They were actually driving in an easterly direction, but that just doesn’t sound right, does it?

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Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Thomas et son équipe !

Meanwhile, in the house, some cooking was going on. Since we both like hearty soups and I am a smidgen lazy, I usually steam fish with fennel and capers as the last step of preparing a stew. For some unknown reason, this time, I decided to bread the fish and pan fry it. I don’t like breaded food, mostly owing to the unnecessary calories, but I have to admit that it can be delicious. When I was much more slender and so young that I naturally believed I would remain slender forever, I used to get a bagful of those deep-fried breading tidbits that the Long John Silver chain used to sell. Oh, those frivolous days of yonder!

The recipe I was planning to use for the breading called for the egg dip between the flour and the crumbs to incorporated cr√®me fra√ģche. Talk about calories!! What most intrigued¬†me, though, was the idea to mix the breadcrumbs with fresh dill. A great starting point for a flavorful¬†breading, I thought.

So, what are we cooking, then? Pollock or saithe or coalfish, that’s what we’re cooking. Pollachius virens, Gadidae, called lieu noir here in France. We’re also going to have skinny green beans with red onion & garlic & ginger confit, plus some peppers & dried tomatoes for color. ¬†And, an accidental side dish, satiny mashed potatoes.

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Here we have the potatoes which, after being started in cold water with a vegetable bouillon cube & salt, will be boiled for 20 min with a Tbl of the diced garlic.

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Dill & lemon zest will become part of the breading

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clockwise from top: nutmeg [for the potatoes], lemon zest [for the breading], marinated dried tomatoes [for the green beans]

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Breadcrumbs with salt, white pepper, powdered coriander, dried sage mixed with 2 Tbl of fresh, chopped dill and the zest of a smallish lemon.

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Before stirring 2 heaped Tbl (!) of cr√®me fra√ģche in the egg, I added a little anchovy paste to enhance the overall flavor

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The breaded lieu noir should rest in the fridge for 15 min [or longer] to let the breading adhere to the fish for frying. Meanwhile, one can look after the beans and their aromatic confit.

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Our other side dish, the mashed potatoes truly were an accident. My original intent was to mash the boiled potatoes with the “stick” attachment of a hand-held mixer, a weak immersion blender, as I believe they’re called. Only, the darn thing wouldn’t work. Well, the mixer worked perfectly fine, but I couldn’t open the sliding shutter covering the stick attachment site. The stubborn plastic thingy plain refused to slide further than halfway. Neither could I find the mixer manual in the drawer specifically designated to hold the manuals of all our large and small appliances. All of them, except the Bosch hand mixer, apparently. Lengthy search-and-rescue missions for operating instructions while hot potatoes wait for action, any action, and another dish¬†awaits stirring, isn’t such a hot idea. So I tossed the mixer back in the cupboard in disgust and poured the potato pieces with a little cooking liquid including the garlic bits, the nutmeg, a dollop of cream & butter, and some cr√®me fra√ģche in the blender, where it turned into this incredibly smooth and silky potato cream. Sort of like soft serve ice cream, only hot and potatoey.

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At least, nobody can say it’s monochromatic ūüėá

 

Potimarrons & Pfifferlinge

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Our mission today is four-fold. Using everything shown above, plus a few additional ingredients like powdered coriander seeds & curcuma, cream, yogurt, duck fat, and, of course, Pfifferlinge, we are tasked to prepare a pot of cabbage stew, a cornbread, a baked potimarron, and, of course, those Pfifferlinge.

Recently we received an order of sorely missed American products from the “My American Market”, a mail-order company in France for American staples, including but not limited to instant jell-O, sweet relish, and crunchy Cheetos. This little package provided the wherewithal to bake my very first cornbread since we left Texas in 2014! And aren’t we all giddy in anticipation?

But first, we have to slice and dice a lot of the fresh ingredients needed for the Wirsing stew, the savoy cabbage you have met in the previous post, and the Pifferlinge in Sahnesoße or chanterelles in cream sauce which around here are known as chanterelles à la crème.

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Diced shallots, parsley, and those marvelous, purple carrots

I bought the funky carrots just for the fun of it. They taste just like regular carrots but render much more dramatic images ūüėé

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Whenever I pull out my large sauteuse for a one-pot meal, the cooking always starts with dry-toasting some spices. Today, we begin by roasting cumin seeds to a deep brown shade, after which some elbow grease is needed to crush the critters into submission.

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The crushed cumin is then divided between the cabbage stew and the cornbread.

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Two yellow onions slowly softening in duck fat and seasoned with crushed, toasted cumin.

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Onion in duck fat on the left –¬†shallots in sweet butter on the right

As I keep lecturing you ever so tediously, take your time with your aromatics! Aromatics Р as in the in the Genus Allium, not the hydrocarbon aromatics of organic chemistry Рneed to sweat in low heat to develop their sweet aroma.

When the onions are ready, we rasp some nutmeg over the vegetables and add salt & pepper. We also add 3 cloves and 2 bay leaves in the rubber turkey leg, as well as an additional laurel leaf [it was too large to fit in the turkey leg container], the diced carrots, and 3 cored Espelette chiles, shortly to be followed by a handful of diced red sweet peppers.

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…¬†while the shallots one burner over still sweat on their own for a little while longer till the time is right to toss our¬†Pfifferlinge into the pan.

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Now we have to focus on the small frying pan because one can’t safely leave one’s chanterelles unsupervised for too long. Soon, very soon, they’ll cry out for some cream.

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I also incorporated a teaspoon of Knorr “Jus de R√īti”, essentially roast beef essence, with the fungi and cream, before offering the creamy chanterelles with a slice of cornbread¬†as an appetizer to my Longhorn versus Oklahoma watching husband.

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Oh yeah, the cornbread! It baked quietly while we were enriching Pfifferlinge mit Sahne ūüėé

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As far as the cabbage stew is concerned, it practically cooks itself. After the bell peppers have made friends with the other ingredients, add the shredded cabbage to the sauteuse, wet it down with some water, season it, and finish it off with cream. All done!

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And what about the potimarron, you ask?

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It and the two heads of garlic plus a couple of Espelette chiles roasted in the oven for a good little while. I’ll use them as a base for soup¬†early next week.

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Autumn’s acoming, so there’ll be a lot more rich and belly-warming soups on the agenda! Stay tuned!!

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A rough table of contents for

A. Cornbread

  • 180 g yellow cornmeal
  • 90 g all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp¬†baking soda

[If you like your cornbread fluffy, add 1 tsp of baking powder]

  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp powdered coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp powdered curcuma
  • 5 turns of a peppermill with white peppercorns
  • 2 Tbl of light brown cane sugar

Combine the above, then add

  • 100 g natural, unflavored yogurt or Kefir [I used Greek-style yogurt]
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbl honey
  • 350 g or most of a can of “Creamed Corn”
  • 75 ml olive oil

Mix well, but briefly. Pour the dough into a ~9″/24cm baking dish.¬†Spread remaining creamed corn in a circle around the top and sprinkle remaining crushed, toasted cumin over the creamed corn. Bake at 200¬ļC/180¬ļC convection/350¬ļF for 35 min. plus leave for 5 min in the turned-off oven.

B. Cabbage Stew

  • 2 Tbl duck fat
  • 1 tsp crushed, toasted cumin seeds
  • 1 Savoy cabbage
  • 2 yellow onions
  • 3 carrots
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 3 Espelette chiles, seeds removed

[the chiles just add a bit of heat, I used them because they were around ūüėé]

  • 3 cloves & 3 laurel leaves
  • freshly ground nutmeg [~1/4 teaspoon]
  • zest of one small lemon
  • 250 ml water, more if needed
  • cream

C. Chanterelles in Cream

Not much to it. Soften the shallots in butter and gently heat the fungi. Season to taste and finish with heavy cream. Yummy!

D. Potimarron

Ditto. Clean out seeds and stringy stuff, cut up and bake/broil/cook at will!

A Poulpette and an Orchid

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As I sit at my desk of a Friday evening, I hear my better half swing¬†his cleaver right below my room. It’s his turn to cook one of his Chinese creations for us. Tomorrow, when he will be more preoccupied with American football, I shall return to our kitchen to wrestle¬†today’s market vegetables into submission, a potimarron, purple carrots, and a Wirsing.

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What a fascinating critter! The many species of Brassica oleracea, Gem√ľsekohl or cabbage,¬†come in a multitude of natural and cultured variations. What I bought today was Wirsing (Brassica oleracea var. sabauda L.) otherwise known as savoy cabbage. One can turn this cabbage into a wide range of delicious dishes, from Kimchi to Kohlrouladen. I’m curious¬†to find out what I’ll do with it tomorrow!

But for now, it’s Red Pepper Shrimp with rice √† Chef Barry.

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Delicious!! Thank you!

And in this P.S. I shall now show you the fabulous and seriously creative dishes we enjoyed the other evening at the local restaurant called “Poulpette” – meaning, one hopes, little Octopus. It was our first meal there and we will definitely go back!

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We shared this entrée of haddock in beetroot cream with fresh almonds

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Barry’s main dish was beef cheek confit with spinach leaves & celery root velours suspended in a cloud of clam juice foam!

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Mine consisted of belly of tuna with grilled potimarron in a lobster bisque flavored with salt-cured lemon. All of it simply amazing!

P.P.S. We just discovered that one of the two orchids we inherited with the house has recovered from longterm neglect and is blooming quite prettily.

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Zygopetalum spec., Orchidaceae, I believe.

 

 

Cognac Impressions

Opening this blog just now, I realized that there’s a queue of five drafts waiting for my attention. I also noticed that I last posted back in May. It does appear¬†I have seriously neglected you!

Earlier this week we drove into town to go to an artisanal frame shop to have some picture frames repaired. The shop is at the edge of Cognac’s pedestrian zone in the center of Old Town, where it is often a little difficult to find a parking space – particularly if one has mysteriously lost all previous possessed skills of parallel parking. This time, parking wasn’t a problem since the town was practically deserted. Cognac is currently snoozing through its August cong√©s, the general summer break for pretty much every business in town.

These “cong√©s pay√©s” or paid¬†vacations were first introduced¬†in¬†Germany in 1905 and over the next 30 years or so, the Scandinavian countries, then Austria, Hungary,¬†Czechoslovakia, Poland, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Luxemburg, and Rumania implemented similar laws, followed by France on the 20th of June 1936. Having been raised in Germany, you can imagine my surprise when I arrived in the United States of America¬†in 1978 and discovered that my first job in the Department of Cellular Biology at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, had virtually no fringe benefits. Worlds apart, then and still.

But let us return to Cognac! The atelier we had planned to visit, naturally, was also closed and realizing the futility of trying to do business in August, we just perambulated slowly through the very quiet Old Town, noticing this, seeing that. We discovered, for example, the Municipal Library which is hidden¬†deep inside the Cloisters of the former Benedictine nunnery Notre-Dame-de-la-Gr√Ęce.

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In the year 1016, the construction of a Benedictine priory was authorized by the lords of Cognac. The Prieuré Saint-Léger soon nestled alongside the even older parish church of the same name. Together, they formed the nucleus of the medieval town center.

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Remnants of 15th-century vaults in the cloister wall

The priory buildings sustained substantial damage through the violent actions of the 100-year war and the French wars of religion and the few remaining monks ultimately abandoned¬†the priory. Around 1623, the bishop in Saintes named a contingent of Benedictine¬†nuns from the¬†convent of the Abbaye des Dames de Saintes the new owners of the priory in Cognac. These ladies rolled up their sleeves and restored the convent, which then operated under the name of Prieur√© Notre-Dame-de-la-Gr√Ęce. During the French revolution, when all church-owned properties were confiscated, the convent became the property of the town and has housed the city archives and the municipal library ever since.

Continuing our walk past the cloisters and the neighboring church, we turned right into rue d’Angoul√™me. This is the main street within the pedestrian zone where shops and caf√©s provide plenty of entertainment. As we were window-shopping at a very leisurely pace, I noticed double doors on my right next to a bright yellow postal box. The doors were open, allowing me to see inside a wide corridor.

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I saw a curious mixture of the old and the new in front of me. Ancient stone wall to the right, modern partitions on the left. The contemporary drop-ceiling with integrated pot lights hanging low over a cobbled ground, more typical for oldfashioned town streets. At the far end of this indoor-outdoor space, I noticed an ancient stone archway, partially obscured by the modern ceiling, offering a tantalizing glimpse of another, dimly lit space behind this entryway.

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Tip-toeing ever closer, the murky space revealed itself as a tiny but extremely tall chamber with an additional door on the left through which organ music emanated. In this absurdly proportioned room lived a lonely sculpture, sadly engrossed in conversation with a folding stepladder. The arms of the Royal House of Valois decorating the monument’s base indicated some importance. Above the solitary figure, we saw two windows, some superimposed walls, and high arches framing a ¬†ceiling cupola.

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Scroll up from here to get an impression of the great height and small footprint of this space

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Identity to be determined

Clearly, this was once a part of Saint-Léger church, now reduced to a side entrance to the main body of the parish church. I have to come back to take a closer look at the statue and try to identify it.

We continued our walk for a while along rue d’Angoul√™me before reversing our steps toward Place Beaulieu, where our car was parked.

 

On the way back to the car, this automated¬†convenience store attracted my attention. Always open, so it promises, the store is equipped with eight tall wending machines loaded with single-serve microwave dinners, ready-to-eat soups, chips, nuts, crackers, candy bars, and cookies – including Oreos – ice-cream, sodas, water, coffees, popcorn, you name it, it’s here!

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24/24 ¬†7/7 ¬†√Čpicerie Automatis√© – Automated grocery store

The details of the curtained window were inspiring.

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Although the workshop to repair our paintings had been closed, we still encountered interesting works of art during our downtown stroll.

 

 

 

Gentle Observations

The weekend calm of our pastoral suburb of Crouin was disturbed by a succession of three thunderstorms sweeping across the town of Cognac this afternoon. The storms brought squalls of heavy rain which pounded the ancient skylights in the roof above our staircase. Having moved-in less than two months ago, we’re not yet used to the origins and meanings of the creaking and groaning this old house produces for varying reasons. Therefore, the rain’s concerto against glass, wood,¬†and stone, accompanied by claps of thunder near and far was a little disconcerting.

This morning, on the other hand, I stepped through the front door into a sunny and peaceful garden.

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As I walked through the overgrown and riotous wilderness, I noticed all manners of secret wildlife.

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A freshly polished young snail

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A busy bee

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A shy putto hiding beneath a rose that hasn’t been trimmed in ages

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A parrot swinging on his perch, still with an adventurous gleam in its wooden eye, even though the poor thing lost all lacquered luster a long time ago

Returning to the kitchen for a cup of coffee, I suddenly realized: I had fallen down the rabbit hole where stuffed birds keep company with gangly giraffes.

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Wishing Y’all a colorful weekend!

[Giraffe by Mordillo]