Our Baby Z

Our home in Cognac has a shed which we use as a garage. It’s a spacious garage, really, but it means carrying the groceries across the yard to the kitchen. Not a horrible proposition, certainly, except when it rains or there are many wine bottles involved, or the old back is acting up – you get the idea. Luckily, we also have an attached barn just past the kitchen that actually has a garage door opening onto a street. Perfect, right? Well, it could be.

As one can see in the following two pictures the sales agent took for her file, there are positive and negative aspects to this potential garage.

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Looking at the old garage door from the utility room

The garage door was falling apart, but more importantly, it is too narrow for our car to fit through it. On the plus side, though, it’s right next to the kitchen/utility area.

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Looking toward the utility room & kitchen

We immediately started plotting to turn this barn into a practical, usable space by enlarging the door opening and installing a handy, motorized garage door, only to have our hopes squashed by local masons and general contractors.

There were two major issues. Firstly and most importantly, the city water intake pipe arises from the ground at the inside edge of the cut stone door frame, whereby “inside” means closest to the opening. The Water Provider would be very happy for us to undertake a modernization of the outdated setup by relocating the pipe itself and moving the counter outside for easy reading. At our cost, naturally. One of the contractors told us that the bill was around $5000 last time he had to do something similar on one of his jobs. A further potential problem is the fragility of those old rubble stone walls. Long story short, it would be prudent to install a new, full-length I-beam to assure the overall stability of the barn, and maybe some corner anchors. And would the roof make it through all those changes? Would we get city hall approval for the necessary building permit? Too many “Ifs”! Such a disappointment!

It was time to change track. If we can’t enlarge the door opening, could we possibly shrink the car? Barry began researching the availability and cost of gently used electric cars with promising results. The decrepit double door, though, still had to be replaced. The wood was crumbling and in order to open it, one needed two different keys to unlock it, plus two heavy iron bars had to be lifted off and five additional hooks had to be removed – all of which could only be done from the inside. Whoever installed that contraption must have been quite paranoid!

We proceeded to realize our new plans and first updated the electricity in the barn with two independent circuits for a motorized door and a charging station for a car. Then we had a new garage door installed and, just last week, we bought our low-mileage Citroën C-Zéro which fits perfectly fine through that darn narrow opening – as long as you flip in the rear view mirrors!

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Our new arrival 💐

On Friday morning, our electricity provider sent over a technician to re-calibrate our counter for night and day electricity tariffs. We now pay a reduced charge for all electricity usage between 22 and 6 hrs. In November, Cognac residents are slated to receive a new generation of counters which will extend those night-time reduced charges throughout the weekend. Being a little greener will hopefully be reflected in our monthly expenses as well. At least, after I figure out how to program the washer and dish-washer for delayed starts!

On Friday night shortly after 22 hrs, I hooked up Zéro for her first “at home” charge. It’s always a bit iffy when you do something for the first time, isn’t it?

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The charge went well, so I took Baby Z grocery shopping this morning after which we pulled into the garage backward. So much easier to pull back out, not to mention to unload the shopping 😊

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 congés, the general summer break for pretty much every business in town.

These “congés payés” 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-Grâce.

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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 Prieuré Notre-Dame-de-la-Grâce. 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’Angoulême. This is the main street within the pedestrian zone where shops and cafés 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’Angoulême 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  Épicerie Automatisé – 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]

 

 

Aillets & Orange sanguine, really?

Aillet is a typical southern French vegetable, possibly falling into the category of an aromatic. It’s akin to green onions or Spring onions or scallions [Allium cepa, Allioideae] but based on tender garlic shoots [Allium sativum, Allioideae] sometimes called “green garlic”. I don’t know if they are available in the Americas, but aillets are being sold all across our produce market stalls here in Saintes lately.

I was perambulating through the market on Saturday morning, enjoying the near-Spring sunshine while hoping for inspirations for our weekend dinners. Watching one of the fishmongers rapidly shucking coquilles Saint-Jacques for his customers, a menu began to take shape in my mind.

At a stall dedicated to citrus fruit, I picked up blood oranges and at another stall two heads of lettuce, to last through Monday, a small fennel, one red pepper, some flat parsley, a half-a-kilo of Brussels sprouts, and two bundles of aillets. Inside the Market Hall, I went to the beef butcher to buy 500 g of bavette which translates to flank steak, followed by a trip to a dairy counter to get locally produced sweet butter and three varieties of cheese. A section of brie from a nearby farm, one nice wedge of cheese made from raw sheep milk in the Basque country, my favorite, and a chunk of Savoie Emmental. And yes, I also stopped at a bakery counter to buy two Rosinenschnecken – you work out yourselves what that is 😎 Lastly, I bought eight coquilles Saint-Jacques before heading home with my treasures.

As is my want, I took pictures of all the stages of the preparation and cooking processes to create a record of the proceedings. But a funny thing happened on the way to the table, actually after dinner. I discovered that my camera hadn’t recorded a single picture. The card contained one solitary image taken two days earlier. That day, I had changed several camera setting and subsequently took a number of shots to compare these new parameters against the previous settings. I transferred the test images to my computer immediately and, satisfied with the results, kept the new camera settings. Ominously, every picture I took subsequently did not record. Oh well, I’ll work it out! But sadly, I have nothing with which to document my newest kitchen endeavor:

Scallops with Blood Orange Confit

  • 1 small yellow onion, finely diced
  • 4 stalks aillets [green garlic] finely sliced
  • 1 small fennel, roughly diced
  • chopped flat-leave parsley for decoration
  • 2 blood oranges: zest of one orange plus its juice, the second orange peeled and sectioned, the sections skinned; they will separate into uneven bits, all of it collected in the same bowl
  • 2 – 3 Tbls of Vermouth
  • salt, pepper, powdered ginger to taste
  • 8* freshly chucked and cleaned coquilles Saint-Jacques, or similar sea scallops. If you have to buy them from a supermarket, make sure they’re “dry” scallops. So-called “wet” scallops were injected with a phosphate solution that plumps them up to bright-white splendor. And a slightly soapy flavor. And it makes them heavier (!) And they will be impossible to pan-sear because they’re filled with fluid.
  • Ghee or clarified butter; sweet butter; olive oil
  • A side dish of your choice, like mashed root vegetables or potatoes, rice, etc.

*  I bought only 8 scallops because I was planning to use them for our appetizer. If you want the scallops as your main dish, adjust the number of scallops up and the amount of the other ingredients accordingly. Also, the very best and most costly are diver’s scallops, definitely worth the expense for a special occasion.

Keep the scallops dry on paper towels and let them come to room temperature before cooking. Prep all the vegetables and have ghee & butter at room temperature & your chosen side dish ready to go.

Heat some ghee and olive oil to medium in a frying pan, add onions, turn down the heat to low and cook gently, stirring often for about 10 min. Add the aillets, cook for another 5 mins before adding the fennel. Add a little salt and a dusting of ginger. Total cooking time roughly 20 minutes.

Turn up the heat to medium-high and pour the Vermouth over the veggies. creating a satisfying sizzle. After a minute, add the blood orange juice and meat all at once, stirring vigorously before turning down the heat to medium-low. Allow the witches cauldron to bubble and burp for a few minutes before adding a few chunks of butter to thicken the melange. Turn the heat off and transfer the blood orange confit to a bowl to keep warm while you cook the scallops.

For the scallops, simplicity rules. In a frying pan, heat ghee to almost smoking hot. With tongues add the scallops to the hot ghee quickly, making sure to leave spaces between the bivalves. Once the underside is golden brown, about 2 minutes, turn the scallops over one by one, turn down the heat a fraction and let them fry another minute. That’s all.

Like so many fruits de mer, for example, squid and octopus, our scallops turn rubbery either when overcooked or left sitting around for too long after cooking. It is, therefore, imperative to have everything ready to serve – and your guests ready to enjoy – before dumping the little devils in the hot ghee. Proper planning is the key to an amazing dish! We had a little left-over Risotto Milanese from the previous night, revived with a dollop of butter & freshly ground Parmigiano, to go with our scallops and confit, perfect in size and flavor composition …

… except for the vanished pictures. Désolée mes amis ! Tomorrow night, it’s the turn of the bavette, the red pepper, and the Brussels sprouts. Are you curious?

 

 

 

 

 

SHAKSHUKA!

Shakshuka may look like a well-wish after someone sneezes, but it doesn’t mean “Zay Gezunt”. Far from it, it means a mixture of things tossed together. As such, it’s a North African dish, sometimes spelled the Frenchy way as Shakshouka. Shakshuka seems to be one of those recipes that are based on a small number of key ingredients, but the execution differs slightly from region to region and even from family to family. According to Wiki, the dish originated in Tunisia – or possibly the Ottoman Empire, or possibly Yemen. We do know that it is a popular dish all across the Arab world and especially in Israel. It may be served either as breakfast or as dinner, often with bread to sop up the juices.

My cousin Andreas recently published a shakshuka recipe on Facebook that he gleaned from the Student Nutrition Association of Bastyr University in Seattle, WA, USA, published in 2016. The recipe had been adopted by Alyssa Siegel and it looked nice and easy. Andreas’ maternal grandfather was Tunisian so it would be very special to think his grandpa dipped his chunk of bread in a shakshuka that his mother prepared. On the other hand, his grandfather grew up quite privileged so his mom may not have cooked the family shakshuka herself ☺️

Either way, I cooked my version last Sunday. I do have to say ‘my version’ because I omitted the main protein providing ingredient, the eggs. Instead, I prepared a duck breast we happened to have in the fridge. Therefore, my Shakshuka was more a Shakshoucanard. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any cayenne pepper in the house, so I substituted the cayenne with piment d’Espelelette, the Basque chili pepper used in the South of France. And to addle things even further, I added garlic, lemon juice, and coriander seeds to the list of flavorings. My lineup of ingredients looked like this:

Fresh ingredients

  • 2 medium onion, halved then sliced very thinly
  • 3 very large garlic cloves, peeled, crushed & diced
  • 1 large red sweet pepper, seeds & white ribs removed, sliced
  • a heap of spinach, stalks & mid-ribs removed, torn into pieces, washed, spin-dried
  • juice of 1 small lemon

cooked separately: 1 boneless duck breast with skin, 410 g or 14.5 oz

Processed ingredients

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 400 g/14 oz [drained net weight] of canned, peeled whole tomatoes, juices reserved
  • 2 tsp honey
  • ‘Maille’ Velours Balsamique, a very thick balsamic vinegar syrup
  • Confit d’oignons [onion jam]

Seasonings

  • salt to taste
  • 1 heaped teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon crushed cumin seeds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon smoked paprika powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered piment d’Espelette chili pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder

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After slicing, dicing, draining and washing my ingredients, I had to dash to the window for a quick shot across the river because it was the last evening of the season with twinkling Christmas lights and the early evening atmosphere was altogether too eerie to pass up.

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Back in the kitchen, it was time to gently toast the coriander and the cumin seeds in a dry pan to release their aromas.

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Coriander develops a warm, citrusy bouquet, while cumin adds a darker, more earthy scent. Once you can smell the heated seeds, add the oil to create a fragrant bath,

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not for the enjoyment of the Queen of Sheba, but in which to sauté the onions.

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Sautéing onions takes patience and very low temperatures, lest they burn. The same wisdom applies to garlic, added next.

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Followed by the red peppers.

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This melange should be slightly softened before the distribution of aromatic powders, the paprika, piment d’Espelette, the cinnamon, and some salt.

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After the spices have had a chance to heat up and distribute their flavors through the vegetables, it’s time to let the tomatoes join the fun.

Whilst these guys got to know each other, I had the leisure to crisp the scored duck skin at a low-medium setting in a dry pan. The rendered fat was collected into a small jar for other uses.

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Now the spinach needed to be added to the shakshoucanard, to wilt quietly while the duck breast browned in the oven.

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Just before serving, I added the juice of half a small lemon to the stew and had more lemon juice at the table, together with the confit d’oignons and the balsamic velours.

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Slices of roasted duck breast over radicchio with shakshoucanard on the side …

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… enhanced with some Velours Balsamique, lemon juice, and confit d’oignons.

Lessons learned:

  • Buy cayenne pepper! The shakshoucanard was not spicy enough. I actually had harissa paste in the fridge but didn’t think of it at the time. This mild version was a tasty companion for the duck, however, I would prefer a lot more oomph preparing it with eggs, as it is intended.
  • Make at least twice the amount listed. We had pathetically few leftovers and this dish is perfect to freeze in portions before you add the lemon juice.

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Flavorful and tasty, I highly recommend this dish. Thanks, cuz!!

 

 

 

Soup

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I haven’t cooked anything new and exciting for some time, except maybe that recent tomato tart that worked out so well for us the first time I baked it, but when I made it again for a party at our house, it turned out all soggy. Such is life! Nevertheless, I felt inspired to dice and slice last weekend, so I made some soup.

I invented a new fish soup, rather a vegetable soup with fish and, lucky us, it turned out quite tasty. Since my dear husband claims I can never repeat a dish, the proof of the pudding being my recent tart, I shall endeavor to record the making of this delectable little soup right here and now when the workings are still fresh in my mind – as far as that goes!

Firstly, you visit the market of a Saturday morn’ and purchase leeks and yellow onions, carrots, and fennel, also potatoes and rustic apples.  Then you meander over to the fishmongers in Les Halles where you buy dos de cabillaud which are very thick and juicy pieces of cod from the northern Atlantic. Oh, a Chinese cabbage landed in my pull cart as well before I headed back home.

Except for the cabbage, the potatoes, and the apples, I prepped the veggies ahead of time on Saturday. I cleaned, trimmed and chopped the vegetables into larger-than-bite-size pieces and stored them in ziplock bags in the fridge for the following day’s cooking. I like to separate my ingredients into their personal little baggies, that way I can line up everything according to the cooking sequence when the time comes:

Bacon bits – onion – leeks/fennel/carrots – potatoes – cabbage – apples – fish

An organized kitchen is half the battle! In the largest bag, I layered leeks, fennel, and carrots in that order, with the carrots on top. I’ll explain later why I like my carrots close to the zipper 😎

When it’s time to cook the soup, boil some water in your electric kettle and use 500 ml of boiling water to dissolve one cube of Court-Bouillon. Keep the rest of the water on standby if you need more fluids. Equally on standby should be a glass of dry white wine [in addition to the one you might be drinking while cooking the soup] and the juice of one-half of a large lemon.

In the spice department, I used salt, pepper – very little, freshly ground black pepper, ground coriander from a supermarket spice rack, ditto for ginger powder, freshly grated nutmeg, and a heaped teaspoon of crushed, dried marjoram. I’m incapable of cooking any savory dish without coriander and marjoram, it’s a personal choice as I love the bare hint of a Mediterranean citrus aroma they lend to a dish. Others might prefer to use tarragon with fish which I dislike. Sadly, I forgot to buy parsley. It should have been part of the soup.

As mentioned before, I like to have everything ready at hand, so I line up my bags, squeeze the lemon juice, pour the wine [both glasses], dissolve the court-bouillon, and marinate the fish before I fire up the largest gas ring on the cooktop. For the cod brine, I spread a little olive oil on a plate and sparingly grind some pepper over the oil, before placing the fish in the oil puddle. With a brush, I collect some of the oil and moisten the surface of the cod pieces with it, adding a little more oil as I go. Then I sprinkle ginger powder and grind some fresh nutmeg over the oily surfaces. In the picture, you can see that my piece of fish received a larger amount of spices than my husband’s who likes it better au natural. My piece is also a little thicker, but shorter, than his because he likes his fish a smidgen further “done” than I do. These pieces, by the way, weigh a little over 600 g total, so we had some leftover for another meal.

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In a large conic sauteuses, I heated some olive oil at medium and cooked the bacon bits. When they were starting to brown, I added the onions and slowly softened them in mid-low heat. At that point, I added the first installment from the leeks/fennel/carrots bag. Specifically all the carrots and a few stray leek and fennel pieces. I simply like to glaze the carrots with the onion and the bacon grease to give them a nice shine and bring out a more intense sweetness before adding the main portion of the veggies to the pot. Now you know why the carrots have to be closest to the zipper!

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Turning up the fire and stirring the vegetables and the bacon frequently, I let them soak up the heat till they glisten happily, about two minutes or so. That was the perfect time to douse the sizzle with the white wine, scrape up any brown bits and turn the heat back down to mid-low, before adding the remaining fennel and leeks, closely followed by the potatoes.

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I mixed the vegetables thoroughly before seasoning with salt, coriander, and marjoram. Then I poured the hot bouillon slowly over the veggies so that salt and spices distributed their flavors across all those cut surfaces. Turning the heat up a notch, I put a lid on the sauteuse and let the bouillon come to a brisk boil. Stirring once more I put the lid back on, before turning the heat down as low as it will go and allowed the soup to bubble contentedly for ten minutes.

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This interval is a good time to check your email, make a clandestine call to the boyfriend and open the wine you want to serve with your soup, in our case a lovely Terres Ocrées Bandol.

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Grape varieties: Cinsault noir – Garnacha negra – Mourvèdre

The last couple of steps are a repeat of the previous dance. First, I added the cabbage and

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let it shrivel a bit before mixing it in, then I added the apple chunks to my soup.

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When all the vegetables were in place, I put the lid back on and turned the heat to medium. Waiting a few moments to let the heat build up nicely under the dome of the lid, I removed it just long enough to gently, ever so gently, slide the two magnificent pieces of fish into the sauteuse. Quick, quick, on with that lid! Keeping the heat at medium to restore temperature, I then turned it down to the lowest setting.

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Did you hear the sigh of contentment as the fish soaked up all those lovely vegetable flavors?

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Our Happy Kitchen

Five minutes later, I took a peek to evaluate doneness. These were thick cuts of fish, so they needed a little longer under the dome. Before replacing the lid, I drizzled some lemon juice over the cod. After another minute, I turned the burner off and let the hot soup do its magic while I heated the plates and poured the wine. By then the fish had turned to opalesque whiteness and flaked easily. Perfect!

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The reddish trim on the fish was red onion confit, a welcome leftover from yesterday’s Sweet Potato & Red Onion Tart. But that’s another recipe ….

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Soup Ingredients:

  • 75 g of commercially packaged, pre-cut bacon bits [lardons fumés]
  • 2 large yellow onion, quartered, each quarter cut in 2 or 3 pieces
  • 3 medium-sized carrots, sliced thickly at an angle
  • 2 leeks, sliced into 3 – 4 cm pieces, excluding very dark green ends
  • 1 very large fennel, sliced [or a couple smaller ones]
  • 6 smallish, thin-skinned potatoes, halved or quartered, skin on
  • 3 apples [e.g. Reine de Reinette or Cox], cored, sliced thickly, skin on
  • Per person: 200g thick filets of cold-water fish [e.g. cod, haddock or hake]
  • 1 cube of Court-Bouillon dissolved in 500 ml of water
  • more water if needed
  • 150 ml of dry white wine
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt & spices at will

 

 

 

Distinctly Different Vistas

We left France recently for our first trip back to Costa Rica in 20 Months, más o menos. The contrast between small town Saintes, Charente-Maritime, and small town Atenas, Alajuela, couldn’t be more pronounced if you tried! With a few of the pictures I took during this last week, I can illustrate the dichotomy between the tranquil life along the Charente river and the dramatic natural forces on the slopes of the Cordillera Central.

On our last day in Saintes, I discovered “our” swans on an outing with this year’s crop of cygnets. Framed against the backdrop of 2000-year-old l’Arc de Germanicus, they are the perfect symbol for life in rural southwest France.

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While I was watching, the parental units brought their swanlings a little closer to the left bank to teach them the swan-ly skill of underwater grazing.

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Mute swans, Cygnus olor, Anatidae

 

Version 2

Close supervision of the fuzzballs brought quick success. 

Finally, even sleepy number seven joined its siblings.

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That’s easy, dad!

In contrast to the gentle breezes and mild temperatures of southwest France, we arrived in Costa Rica to an atmosphere of nearly saturated humidity, so moist and oppressive that even the cashier at the supermarket had to wipe her face repeatedly with the collar of her polo shirt while she was checking us out. If the locals can’t stand it, how am I supposed to cope? Our customarily crisp and brilliant sunrises were also a bit on the murky side.

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05h28

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05h40

Fortunately, the weather has since reverted to normal, with pleasant mostly sunny mornings and thundering afternoons, befitting the early rainy season.

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06h25

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06h26

The hillside across the canyon hasn’t fully greened yet,  but it’s early days – the rainy season has barely started. However, when it does rain one can’t easily ignore it!

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15h34

My circadian rhythm has reset itself, adjusting to the near equatorial day with daylight from 5h00 to 18h00 and brief dawn and dusk periods. In Costa Rica, pretty much the whole country rises and retires with the proverbial chickens, except the party crowd in posh Escazu, of course. In addition to the properties of lux influx, I postulate that an adaptation to the local alimentation greatly influences my Tica-style sleep-wake cycle. After all, one can not possibly start the day in Costa Rica without a serving of Gallo Pinto, can one now?

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Speaking of food, Costa Rican ants like their protein, too. It took a steady stream of tiny Formicidae roughly 36 hours to completely strip this beetle of all nourishing organic matter. A contiguous ant-highway extended along my bathroom tile grout for several meters between the supine victim and the outdoors, moving along with single-minded determination. Amazing!

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The statuesque lady below, sunning herself on our cement pool surround is a member of one of our resident Black iguana families, Ctenosaura similis, Iguanidae. They live on the hillside below and above us and their extensive escape tunnels incorporate our rainwater drainage system. Iguanas are pretty shy and tend to disappear rather quickly when they detect you.

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The spikes on the iguana’s tail give them their other name, Spiny-tailed iguana. 

 

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Another iguana family lives in the steep mountainside opposite our back door. One of the cave entrances is five or six meters above our carport. They do enjoy sunbathing, so in Costa Rica, I have a much greater opportunity to observe iguana than swans!

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Both locations, Saintes and Atenas, are gorgeous in their own way, don’t you think?

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05h29, May 31, 2017