Our 40th Anniversary

In France, an anniversary, true to its linguistic roots, means an annual celebration independent of the nature of the event. Therefore, our anniversary would be called an “anniversaire de mariage” or Hochzeitstag, if you prefer.

For the past few years, we’ve made a point of celebrating our wedding anniversary with a meal in a Michelin starred restaurant. Since this year’s anniversary was definitely a biggy, signifying that we had been together since the dark ages, a two-star restaurant was in order, don’t you agree?

The husband did all the research to find just the right place for this year’s jubilee. Our wedding date of December 28th, however, posed a challenge in his selection process because many French restaurants are closed from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve or Saint-Sylvestre which is a huge night out for French adults after the largely family-oriented celebration of noël. Most restaurants in our town, for example, close for a few days for family time and in preparation for their extravagant St-Sylvestre menus, reservations only [well in advance], often with live music and dancing. But my guy is an accomplished internet researcher, and he found just the place for our very own special night out.

A serious concern, however, was the upper respiratory infection I contracted mid-December. Although I felt much better by Christmas, we were holding our collective breaths waiting if Barry would get sick also. Additionally, our heating crashed on us twice in the span of three days during Christmas week, so that we had to deal with 14ºC/57ºF in the house, not too much fun for someone with bronchitis. Fortunately, Barry didn’t get sick, the boiler was repaired and we happily packed our bags for an overnight in La Rochelle. We stayed at the Chambres d’Hôtes Eden Ouest, a B&B in the center of town. In this charmingly restored 1745 townhouse, in which we occupied a large bedroom with a comfortable bed and a huge ensuite bathroom sporting not only a wooden tub from Austria but also the most delightful steam shower. Fabulous treats for these old bones!

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In the evening, we took a cab to the restaurant since it was a rainy side, arriving at the appointed hour at the Christopher Coutanceau for a remarkable experience in fine dining.

Once we were settled at our table, we could take in our surroundings and enjoy the ambiance of the contemporary space. “Wave action” wall designs and intricate lighting systems highlighted the restaurant’s coastal location and the chef’s grounding in all things pertaining to the sea.

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While we sipped our half-bottle of Bollinger special cuvée Champagne with the amuse-gueules, we studied the menu and dove with great anticipation into the unfolding drama of a performance designed, it seemed, uniquely for us.

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We discussed our options and choices comparing the menus presented to us in two different languages. It was pretty funny to read how certain foods or preparations were worded in either French or English. Another, equally important decision related to the wine selection. After consulting the sommelier, we selected a bottle of Côte de Beaune, a southern Bourgogne Chardonnay, an aromatic wine of character which we were assured would stand up well to the strong flavors of our seafood dishes, followed by a half-bottle of the Provençal Bandol AOC for the meat course. We enjoyed Bandol Rosé all through the summer months and were curious about the red Bandol, with its four grape varieties of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsault, and a smidgen of Carignan. Both wine selections turned out to be delicious.

Our first course was a type of seafood which, as highly praised as it is in Asturia and Galicia, we had never tasted before. Gooseneck barnacles.

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Granted, pretty they are not, but they are tasty, particularly in this preparation. There is a funny story in Wikipedia telling about the origin of the barnacle’s common name. Goose or Gooseneck barnacles are sessile crustaceans in the Order Pedunculata living on driftwood, rocks, boat hulls, whales, and so forth. The well-known cleric and historian Gerald of Wales [1146 – 1223 more or less], living during an age when the avian habit of seasonal migration was not yet widely known, postulated that the brant goose [Branta leucopsis, Anatidae] derived from barnacles because no-one had hitherto seen these geese hatch in the British Isles. This unfounded wisdom found its way into common lore so that to this day the bird is called barnacle goose and the crustacean goose barnacle. Nonetheless, there was one medieval detractor of the cleric’s hypothesis, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II [1194 – 1250]. The emperor dissected innumerable barnacles and never once found a goose embryo within. Not surprisingly, being the scientifically minded scholar he was, he declared the goose-from-barnacle story balderdash. It is not known if he ever ate a goose barnacle. I’m sure you understand, why this biologist emerita regards Frederic II as her favorite emperor.

We were a whole lot more familiar with the seafood served subsequently, featuring two different preparations of Coquilles St-Jacques or scallops, lobster, and John Dory. Without any doubt, the star of our first scallop dish was the highly prized seasoning called a truffle.

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Our plates arrived displaying a circle of sliced scallop carpaccio, decorated with little dots of truffle essence. The white-gloved Master of Truffles then shaved a generous amount of truffle, burying the delicate scallop slices under the fragrant aroma of winter truffles.

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After the truffle shaving action, our waiters poured some more truffle essence in a circular motion around the scallop and truffle arrangement.

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Comparatively speaking, the second scallop dish lacked preparatory drama – but certainly not any flavor! Seared diver’s scallops are among my most favorite foods.

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Drama returned in full force with the presentation of our next plate, presented to us in concert by two waiters like a synchronized water ballet performance.

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Without a doubt, this was the unbearable lightness of being lobster. May Kundera forgive me for borrowing his and Nietzsche’s theme, but this dish had the flavorful weightiness and density in texture, as well as a delicate lightness in the form of a foamy, enveloping cloud pulling together the sublime arrangement of textures and aromas upon which this dish depends and these gentlemen expounded so eloquently – if not necessarily in regard to food.

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The four bottles we consumed, champagne, white, red and bubbly water

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Even the bread service turned into a performance. A waiter came around with a pushcart laden with baked goods. There were individual buns in a variety of flavors and loaves of yeasty, crusty creations fresh from the oven. The Bread cart was followed by the butter maid – actually it was a guy, but, heck – offering a choice of sweet butter, demi-sel, or salted, plus a selection of herbed butter.

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And speaking of salt, this was the salt cellar on our table. I had to ask what it was because its function was not readily apparent. At first, I thought it was just a tchotchke, but the iridescent globe hid an indentation with a small opening in its bottom through which the salt was dispensed as you shake the pretty glass bowl. Clever!

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John Dory with a roasted octopus arm, an artichoke, and a squid-ink noodle thingy.

After the fish courses, we switched to the Bandol to accompany the meat course, venison from the Alsace region. The deer meat had been marinated in red wine for 24 hrs and was rich and tender.

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Venison backstrap in quince and hazelnut reduction, chestnut and crosnes sides

Of course, the venison, being a typical winter dish, was enhanced with the ultimate winter flavor, truffle.

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This venison dish was not just flavorful and tender, but also reminiscent of our years on El Rancho Leon in Central Texas. Living in the heart of Texas for ten years, we never consumed store-bought meat. We only ate what our land provided. Since I didn’t trust my markswoman’s skill beyond rattlesnakes and feral pigs, we asked our bow-hunting friend and neighbor to harvest deer for us, splitting the meat between our families. Even though quite frankly, there is nothing tastier than Axis [Axis axis] backstrap, this was darn good!

We concluded our meal with a succession of desserts, beginning with the most beautiful little caramelly concoction. It was a Caramel and Cognac sorbet with Jonchée [local Saintonge “Quark” or fromage blanc]. You see jonchée in market stall around Saintes, so I was familiar with this fresh cheese specialty, albeit not in this unique transformation!

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The creamy-rich caramel sorbet was followed by a thyme flavored lemony lemon sorbet with a crackling lemon shell.

 

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Oh, my!

After more than three hours of indulgence and debauchery, we eschewed a taxi, bravely walking back to the hotel through the gentle mist of the late December night.

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With rain-soaked hair and moisture-dripping glasses, it is no wonder that this good-night selfie turned out a bit fuzzy 😎

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Toward Year’s End …

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It is customary to reflect on the past, sometimes with regret or even remorse as a year comes to its designated end and a new one commences while we either sleep or drink champagne. Thus we either ignore the arrival of the new year in our timezone, or we celebrate it as if we achieved a goal. And maybe we have, simply by surviving yet another one! As the new year approaches, some people attempt to catalog their wishes and dreams for themselves, only to discarded these aspirations within the next few weeks. I am, however, neither a philosopher nor a dreamer, just a realist who has never written a list of resolutions. I gladly leave such endeavors to proper thinkers.

I am simply happy that I feel better after a rather unpleasant upper respiratory infection which restricted the lighting of our Hanukkah candles this year to a grand total of twice. We lit the first candle, but then I wasn’t upright again till the last night of Hanukkah.

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Above all, I am happy that my husband and I are both in a reasonably healthy condition, that we enjoy our life together despite our creaky joints and all those physical nuisances which assume hallmark status on our way toward Really Old Age. Come to think of it, it’s not only the physical issues, the mental lapses clearly, or rather foggily, become unpleasantly numerous as well. That dastardly word that’s on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite spit it out. Yet, for the time being, we can still help each other out with a choice of vocabulary options.

That said, we are anticipating major lifestyle changes for the year 2018. We shall attempt to domesticate ourselves. We have tried that once before when we moved to our ranch in Central Texas and it didn’t work out. We loved traveling far, wide and beyond too much to remain home. Nevertheless, we shall once more endeavor to settle down and, glorious novelty, stay put at home.

We are serious about outfitting our new home in Cognac, Charente, France, to include guest space for visiting family and friends. We are serious about adding two dogs to the family and we are committed to undertaking only short-range train or car travel. We are already anticipating the visit of dear friends in June and in July, crossing fingers, our kids will bring Izzy, the apple of our grand-parental eyes, over from Austin, Texas, for a nice, long European vacation. It will be new and different and exciting for us.

Meanwhile, still in Saintes, we’ve pulled out our 30-plus-years old Marimekko Christmas placemats, enjoying a Christmas Eve dinner and getting started on that year-end Champagne. We wish you all a wonderful and warm Christmas Season and the Best for the New Year. As a little year-end puzzle, I hope you will tell me the reason why I wrote the year 2018 upside down into Julie’s wreath in the picture above? Looking forward to your guesses!!

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Barry had to purchase a Bûche de Noël for us this year because I wasn’t up to baking my usual bûche. Next year, we’ll have my version again!

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Before we bid goodbye to this year, I want to tell you a little anecdote about my dad. In the Fall of 1977, Barry and I drove across Germany to Kiel, to introduce my brand-new fiancé to my parents. They hosted a family dinner in our honor culminating in a Schnaps-drinking lesson for the son-in-law-in-spe. My father’s favorite Schnaps was Aalborg Akvavit, a caraway-flavored liquor. In northern Germany, it is customary to drink combinations of beer and liquor, which differ regionally. In my father’s hometown of Hannover, something called Lüttje Lage is the way guys drink their brandy with the local beer. Later in his life, our father’s liquor preference moved a little further North, all the way to Denmark where Akvavit is distilled. After our dinner, he initiated Barry into the secrets of this viscous, sharp-flavored Northern spirit. For my father’s seaburial in May of 1994, I brought aboard a bottle of the most exquisite Akvavit I could find in Hamburg and we all got completely smashed in his honor. It was a true Viking Burial! Ever since Barry and I drink an Akvavit toast to my father’s memory on his birthday, the 25th of December.

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[Since neither of us actually likes the taste of Akvavit, the bottle stays safely stored in the freezer for the rest of the year!]

Poitiers with Dogs and Manifestations

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Recently we drove to Poitiers for a dog-themed weekend, specifically to attend a Friday/Saturday/Sunday dog show held at the arena of the Parc des Expositions de Poitiers. Since we are getting ready to move into our peaceful retirement home in Cognac by the end of the year, we need to make a decision with which type of companions we want to share our lives there. Our garden will be small and we have developed some issues typical for the elderly, including but not limited to concerns of mobility with a decided loss of youthful exuberance, especially early in the mornings. Therefore our beloved Kangal dogs and Beaucerons will no longer be a viable option for us. In the past, we’ve also lived with Bouvier des Flandres dogs which would be lovely to have around again if it were not for their very high grooming requirements. As it is, we need to educate ourselves as to what’s out there in the realm of low-maintenance, low energy, yet reasonably sized canines. We are considering adopting slightly older dogs as well, but only if the dog’s past is well documented.

On Friday morning we embarked on our factfinding mission to Poitiers, which is about an hour and a half’s drive to the North of Saintes. We stopped at our hotel in the historical town center first to get rid of our luggage. The Hôtel Mercure is located in a former church building and turned out to be utterly charming.

Our room extended over two stories with the bed upstairs on the mezzanine level. There were arches, cut stone, voluptuous curtains, and romantic views over slate roofs and chimney pots.

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The main body of the restaurant, as seen from one of the breakfast alcoves

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Another look at the mesmerizing hallway running alongside the restaurant “nave”

The Friday afternoon confirmation event, the Séance de Confirmation, was organized by the regional club, the Association Canine Territoriale du Poitou, while the weekend’s Exposition Canine Internationale under the auspices of the FCI [Fédération Cynologique Internationale, the International Dog Federation] and the SCC [Société Centrale Canine, the French Kennel Club], included dogs from all ten breed groups, plus a number of breed specialties and agility and obedience events. Confirmation, the judging of individual dogs against their breed standard is done very differently in Europe versus American dog shows. It is much more exact in Europe, involving actual measuring sticks and a written evaluation of every dog presented to the judge. The judge will also explain her or his reasoning ad hoc to the handlers.

Friday afternoon we just wandered hither and fro through the arena, learning, observing and enjoying the doggy atmosphere. I fell into conversation with one of the exhibitors, a lady who spends most of her weekends at dog shows. She breeds rough-haired wiener dogs and shows them across the country and beyond. She was accompanied by her very pregnant daughter, who showed her Kai-ken. I had no idea what a Kai-ken is when it’s home, so I received a quick introduction to the medium-sized, short-legged Kai-ken or Tora Inu, Tiger dog, one of the six native Japanese spitz-type dogs. They are believed to have been introduced to Japan during the period of the Jomon people’s culture, thousands of years in the past. The brindled Kai dogs were specialized to hunt Kamoshika, a native mountain goat-antelope. All I can say, he was cute! I greatly enjoyed talking with this French woman of strength and grace. Her musician husband is currently traveling across his native land of Senegal in the pursuit of artistic fame and fortune, while she lives with her daughter and nine dogs [children 1 through 9], plus the imminent arrival of her grandson [child number ten] and her son-in-law [child number eleven] all told with a big smile. More than I ever could accomplish!

On Saturday we hit the expo floor running and dedicated the entire day to our breed research, except when we were sidetracked and smitten all over again by Beauceron babies like this one. How can you possibly resist these mega-paws and mischievous smiles?

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Or the power and presence of the adult version?

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1st Excellent RCACS, Intermediate class, Malko de la Noe du Jardin

A contender for breed preference were the Dutch Shepherds with their brindle coats and sharp appearance. I’m a sucker for brindle and the ever so vague impression of African hyenas. To clarify, not a resemblance but a fleeting hint of a pictorial memory.

Czech Wolfdogs were a surprise for me, as I had never seen them before. Gorgeous. I wonder if they should be in “show” situations, though. The poor fellow in the grandstands above us was stress-drooling even though he was far from the action.

Malinois are certainly beautiful creatures, but owing to their extremely high exercise needs, like the Dutch Shepherds, they are much too intense for our limited physical abilities.

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We rested for a while in the grandstands, surveying the proceedings from lofty heights. Right below us, the SPA [Société Protectrice des Animaux] did a brisk business with their raffle tickets, while the Briards, les Chiens Berger de Brie, were judged in the ring closest to us.

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We weren’t the only ones needing a bit of a break!

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Bearded Collie or Beardie

Rhodesian Ridgebacks might be a possibility for us. They are certainly short-coated and, according to one breeder, downright lazy. At least as adults, they don’t seem to need as much exercise as the herders.

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Walking around the vast arena, stopping here and there for a closer look, we saw a number of breeds of which we had never heard before, including these large, floppy-eared hunting dogs apparently indigenous to our area, the Saintonge.

The dogs in this kennel enclosure took every single one of the six “Best of” titles in the “Hounds hunting in packs” [Meute] category that Saturday. Chapeau, Monsieur Rouhet !

And speaking of packs, there was an obvious intruder hiding amongst these beagles 😁

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After the show on Friday and Saturday, we walked around Vieille Ville, the old quarters of Poitiers, enjoying the sights and sounds of a town which for a time during the 100-year war was the home of the Royal French government while Paris was in the hands of the Plantagenet. It was here in Poitiers that Jeanne [Jehanne] d’Arc, La Pucelle d’Orléans, was questioned by a panel of theologians on behalf of the Dauphin Charles to determine her veracity. In April of 1429, this learned Commission of Inquiry “declared her to be of irreproachable life, a good Christian, possessed of the virtues of humility, honesty, and simplicity” [Wikipedia]. From Poitiers, she went straight to besieged Orléans, where her presence and strategic advice facilitated the retreat of the English within days. One of the charges she faced two years later during her trial in Rouen, by the way, was cross-dressing. Her English accusers apparently preferred their female warriors to attend battlefields in frilly dresses.

This may have been the site where La Pucelle [the virgin] was vetted. It is, at least, the property where we found a 1929 plaque honoring the 500th anniversary of her presence in Poitiers.

Even older than the shenanigans of past difficulties between English and French royal ambitions is this beautiful parish church in the pedestrian zone of Old Town.

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Cure de Saint Porchaire

The foundation of St-Porchaire was laid in the IXth century, eventually acquiring its gorgeous Romanesque-style tower. The church is one of only a few churches in all of France with a [gothic, in this case] double-nave. One of the naves was used by parishioners and pilgrims, the other by resident monks. Next door in the presbytery local youths are invited to safely congregate for listening and talking.

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On the way to église Notre-Dame-la-Grande, down rue de la Regratterie, we were passed by a manifestation we had encountered earlier in Place Alphonse Lepetit.

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The large contingent of heavily armed national police and local flics seemed quite relaxed about the youthful demonstrators, as they were carrying their riot helmets in their hands rather than wearing them, while the protestors chanted about their discontent with Trump and capitalism with a capital C. Very civilized, all in all.

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The splendid façade of Notre-Dame-la-Grande

Cobbled lanes, embellished fronts, and artisanal wonders.

Pretty much every little French town has a bookstore dedicated to the long tradition of European comic-book culture. My late brother, a fluent French speaker, was an aficionado of the Belgian comic “Tintin” since boyhood. Still, 18 months after his death, passing by such displays, I want to tell him about my Tintin encounters, freezing inside all over again when I instantly realize, I no longer can.

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For my Canadian friends:

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Another time we witnessed a more cheerful and melodious manifestation in the streets of Poitiers, one whose participants were certainly fond of colorful stockings. We never did find out what it was all about …

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The Palais des Comtes de Poitou et Ducs d’Aquitaine. Aliénor slept here. She is better known internationally as Eleanor Duchess of Aquitaine [1122-1204], Queen of France [1137-1152, annulment], Queen of England [1154-1189].

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Now, however, it is high time we returned to the dog show pandemonium! Next up, the Akitas.

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Wait, those aren’t Akitas! Of course not, these are two lovely Scottish Deerhounds. Together with Irish Wolfhounds, I’ve always admired these swift giants.

In regard to the Akitas, there are American Akitas and Akita Inu. We wanted to take the opportunity to have a closer look at both Akita versions as potential companions for us. We met a breeder and successful exhibitor, Amandine Malordy, and her sisters who own the “Les Gardiens de la Cigogne” kennel quit near us in Charente-Maritime.

The larger American Akitas are beautiful and majestic animals with stunning coats and regal bearing. Nevertheless, I’m more strongly drawn to the Japanese Akitas.

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L’Makaho Go des Templiers Sacres, 1st Excellent, open males

We have a lot to discuss and evaluate, especially because we came across another breed we’re now seriously considering, the Berger de Picardie. Almost a small version of those rough-coated hounds, don’t you think?

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And while we mull it over, let’s indulge in Kangal images. What could be better?

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Father and son of the Elevage du Domaine du Bois Fidèle were showing together in the male puppy class.

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The puppy isn’t making it easy for the junior handler …

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ultimately doing a full somersault before …

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… melting into the red carpet like warm jello.

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But the brave handler of the boneless Kangal didn’t give up. He untangled the lead and shoving his arms like forklift bars beneath the dog’s torso, he lifted [!] the puppy up and placed him back on his paws. I have no picture of this courageous action because I was watching it with my mouth hanging open. Well done, unflappable young man!

Below you see the puppy class winner, bred by Guy Gauthier of Elevage Etoile d’Isis in the Dordogne.

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Star of Isis Neper Kangal, Meilleur Puppy

The majority of the Kangal dogs judged in Poitiers were bred by Amelle Autunes of The Legend of Kangal kennel.

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This is France, land of Style and Haute Couture, n’est-ce pas ? Even at a dog show 🙃

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L’Heimdall The Legend of Kangal, 1st Excellent RCACS

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#1095, Best of opposite sex, Excellent CACIB, J’Python The Legend of Kangal

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It is time to drive home, so let’s say goodbye to all those lovely dogs with one more sweet Kangal picture.

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Rue des Jacobins

Rue des Jacobins in the town of Saintes is just a narrow, elderly street, leading north from the central pedestrian zone, terminating in a set of stone steps ascending to Capitole Hill, where once the Roman Forum formed the administrative center of Mediolanum Santonum the first capital of the imperial Roman province of Gallia Aquitania. At least, it is assumed that the forum stood on this easily defensible calcareous cliff overlooking the town and river. Recent excavation unearthed more artifacts in support of this hypothesis, but the many layers of detritus and rubble of human habitation over the last two thousand years, not to mention the current population of Capitole Hill make it a very costly proposition to dig any further. For now anyway.

I had an appointment at our bank located up on the hill. Stepping back outside in the brilliant sunshine of an autumnal afternoon in southwest France after my consultation, I couldn’t help but snap a few photos on my way home to show you how prettily our little town presents itself.

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Turning from the Esplanade du Capitole toward the Rue des Jacobins stairs

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You can either take the stairs into the Ruelle du Bastion or turn right for the staircase down to Rue des Jacobins. Saintes is full of these secret alleyways connecting actual streets for pedestrians.

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And there are the ancient roofs of le quartier Saint-Pierre, our district, dominated by la cathédrale Saint-Pierre, the St. Peter Cathedral.

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Looking back uphill, you can see how impossible an archeological exploration in this part of Capitole Hill would be. The modern city is much too densely build. In our narrow view only are a chapel, a convent, a school, and a senior home!

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Stone

Continuing along Rue des Jacobins, named after a 12th century Dominican monastery located where we find the Bibliothèque Martineau now, I made my usual detour into the courtyard of Monsieur Martineau’s former l’Hôtel Particulier.

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The tranquil garden changed a little since I first discovered it in March of 2014. The majestic beech tree, formerly in the now newly seeded area, above, had died and the vines covering the library and chapel on the right were also removed. It looks a little naked and barren without their rustic charm.

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At least the painted flowers still delight!

Rue des Jacobins is not very long, we can already see its end at the intersection with Rue Alsace-Lorraine, the pedestrian zone’s main drag.

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But before we walk on, let’s have a peek through the blue gate of the kindergarten on the left, shall we?

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Fall colors and sharp shadows highlight the old belfry of the ancient bishop’s residence, currently the Musée de L’Échevinage for Fine Art.

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And here we are, the intersection where the Middle Ages meet modern commerce.

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Now let’s hurry home for a fragrant cup of tea!

Swans versus Cormorants

Hell, it’s a dangerous world out there, or so I witnessed this morning while leaning half asleep against a window frame, waiting for the coffee machine to finish drip-drip-dripping. As I glanced cross-eyed across the river, I noticed several birds flying in from the Palu Wetlands just downriver from us.

A flock, clutch, brotherhood, brace … no, a Gulp of Cormorants* settled on the Charente river and commenced fishing for their breakfast.

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Now you see them – now you don’t.

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*The term ‘A gulp of cormorants’ was taken from the utterly delightfully nerdy post “A Dissimulation of Birds” by Burly Birds [** My own invention]

While fishing, the cormorants inadvertently got closer and closer to a Swagger of Swans** feeding close to the bank below our house.

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The cormorants paid no heed to their large cousins, being focused exclusively on spearing small river fish. I saw the shiny silver tidbits disappear in their gullets again and again. The hunt was quite successful this morning!

The swans, however, being so much more slow-grazing and placidly-drifting felt crowded by the hectic divers and moved to defend their realm against the hook-beaked dark-feathered cormorants.

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Dive, brothers, dive!!Swans vs Cormorants

Just as quickly as tempers flared, they calmed again and peace resumed on the Charente.

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Time to fly home to La Palu for a post-breakfast snooze.

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And my coffee was ready as well!

Breakfast of Champions …

… river style.

This year’s cygnets are growing up fast, in part no doubt because the La Palu Prairie Wetlands extending off our lovely river Charente provide such excellent nourishment for them. From our bedroom window, I got this Sunday morning view of happy birds feeding.

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The Charente flowing past our house offers beauty and entertainment. A gentle sunset view, perhaps,

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or a more dramatic moon rising.

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People watching is also offered at no extra cost, either from our enclosed veranda while sipping apéro or passing by a window and snatching a quick shot of

“L’heure Bleue with Bride”

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Or was it a fashion shoot under the Arc of Germanicus?

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Enjoy your Sunday, my friends!

Salmon in Parsley Cream under a Full Moon

In our town of Saintes, Charente-Maritime, we have a produce market in different locations every morning, except Mondays. On Saturdays, my wheeled shopping trolley with matching umbrella

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and I like to hike the exhausting distance of about one hundred meters [300 feet] to the market snuggling against the rugged ancient walls of the cathédrale Saint-Pierre.

This Saturday was special because we had traveled so much these past months that it was my first marketing adventure since May, our glorious asparagus season.

The stalls are lined up in a long, slightly crooked triple row in the shadow of the cathedral, their awnings forming a colorful canopy for the mingling crowd of shoppers. Interspersed with the fruit and vegetable vendors offering mostly locally grown produce, you find tables, booths and even caravans selling baked goods, fresh pasta, honey, eggs, Pineau [a local cognac product], oysters, pantoufles [warm fabric slippers for winter evenings], spices, kitchen gadgets, prepared dishes and roasted chickens and couscous, cut flowers and potted plants, and sometimes even rugs. There is also a heavenly table from which flavored salts and olives are sold. You can choose from a dozen or so different types of marinated olives for apéro, other savories like capers, or salt-cured lemons. Meanwhile, the indoor market hall houses the fishmongers, the beef, pork and horse butchers, the charcuterie, the cheesemongers and poultry vendors, several more bakeries, as well as merchants offering pastries, chocolates, and other sweets.

Aside from shopping, I was also looking forward to socializing, because that’s what you do on Saturdays. You buy provisions for the weekend, then you hang out with friends. Behind the market hall stretches a terrace overlooking the river. A local bar offers drinks and tidbits and one of the fishmongers supplies chucked oysters. You sit under umbrellas, drink rosé, slurp bivalves and gossip. Lovely!

Back home I unpacked my goodies. Potatoes, leeks, fennel, onions, flat parsley, butter lettuce, tomatoes, lemons, croissants, cervelat, salami, Emmental cheese and salmon steaks. The potatoes, aromatic vegetables, and the fish were to become a one-dish oven-roasted concoction, while the cervelat was destined to mix and mingle with the Emmental de Savoie, an unpasteurized semi-hard cow’s milk cheese with quite a bit more character than your average pre-packed “Swiss Cheese”! Those two were going to form the basis for my hearty Wurstsalat, whereby the translation ‘sausage salad’ simply sounds silly.

If you have chronic ‘mal au dos’, backache, like I have, any prolonged posture or activity causes trouble. By necessity, I switch back and forth between activities as much as possible. That’s a great excuse for buying croissants because one has to sit down with a snack to recuperate from dragging the heavy cart home, naturally. Cooking is also better broken up into activity sections, getting the preps out of the way before the actual cooking begins with a couple of rest periods in between. After some slicing and dicing, I took pictures of several bowls lined up for the eventual cooking orgy.

One bowl contained potato pieces in cold water, another one fennel, leek, garlic, yellow onion, red pepper, and parsley marinating in lemon juice, white pepper, coriander powder and olive oil. The smallest of the bowls contained very, very finely diced fennel heart and fennel greens mixed with a lot of very finely chopped parsley, coarse sea salt, white pepper, some powdered ginger, olive oil, a few drops of lemon juice, sheep milk yogurt/cottage cheese [Fromage blanc au lait de brebis], and a dollop of heavy cream.

I took pictures of the assembly of ingredients and seasonings so I would remember what I used for my salmon casserole.

And why am I not showing you these or other pictures I took of the finished product? Or, for that matter pictures of that brilliantly gorgeous full moon which rose over the Charente river that evening?

Because I inadvertently deleted all of them. Every single picture. Dammit!

All I have left is a picture of the leftovers. How appropriate  😦

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But the recipe is straight forward and slight variations surely won’t matter.

  • Wipe an oven proof dish with olive oil. Add the dried potato pieces. Season with black pepper, salt and rubbed dry thyme, sprinkle with olive oil. Roast the potatoes in the oven at 180ºC/350ºF for 15 mins.
  • Add the marinated vegetable mix, combine with potatoes and bake a further 15 mins.
  • Take dish from oven. Increase temperature to 200ºC/400ºF
  • Remove skin from salmon and add salmon chunks to the casserole. Snuggle the fish against the roasted vegetable mix and douse with the parsley cream, covering the fish quite thickly.
  • Shove the dish back in the oven and roast till the fish is done. The timeframe depends entirely on the thickness of the salmon steaks. We had very thick chunks and they were packed a little too closely together. Ultimately they took almost 15 minutes to be heated through. Salmon is a very fatty and dense fish, which takes a little more time than let’s say whitefish. Just don’t let the fish dry out!

Juicy fish over aromatic veggies – what could be better!!

On Sunday we had the Wurstsalat, composed of the French “Swiss” cheese, cervelat [akin to bologna], red onion, cornichons and tomatoes, dressed in an emulsion of Chardonnay vinegar, a splash of pickle juice, sweet Dijon mustard, a pinch of sugar & salt, white pepper and cold pressed extra virgin olive oil. Served over the sweet and crunchy leaves of a butter lettuce – ever so tartly delicious!

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Since my no doubt, fabulous moon pictures are gone, I’ll say goodbye with a zoom shot of an egret, whom we observed stalking his prey during our Sunday afternoon walk through La Palu, our local wetland preserve.

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