Sourcing our sushi

Sushi isn’t my absolute favourite food, but Jan and I do enjoy it. A lot. The question is: where can you find good sushi relatively near to Daglan?

The key to sushi success, of course, is freshness. Not only the fish and other seafood must be fresh, but the rice must be moist and fresh as well. In the past, we did try sushi as sold in supermarkets (like the Carrefour in Gourdon), but clearly it had been packed somewhere offsite, and might have sat in the store’s refrigerated shelves for days. Clearly not worth buying.

But check this out: It’s my plate for lunch as arranged by Jan yesterday, and I am glad to report it was fresh and tasty:

A nice assortment for lunch.

So, I can hear you asking, what is our source? Well, it happens that the large Leclerc supermarket in Sarlat (some 25 minutes away) has a special stand that serves up a large assortment of sushi dishes, and related Japanese delights. And the best news is that the sushi is made fresh on the spot. Here’s the stand, located in the supermarket near the large seafood counter and several counters of fresh veggies:

The sign says “Asian Street Food,” and that’s what is on offer.

There really is quite a range of items on offer, at both ends of the stand. Here’s a look at the assortment at one end:

The food items all lined up at one end of the stand.

And here’s the offerings at the other end of the stand; you can see one of the staff members putting some newly made dishes on the shelves:

Row upon row of Asian delicacies, including trays of sushi.

For us, an assortment of sushi makes for a nice, light lunch. The key is for us to do our shopping in the morning, so that when we arrive back at home, we can enjoy the fresh items right away. If we do our shopping at Leclerc in the afternoon, Jan will buy a smaller selection for a light dinner.

There’s another advantage of meals like this: much less clean-up. As the clean-up person in our kitchen, I appreciate being freed of having to wash out pots and pans and all that. By contrast, today’s lunch will be a clean-up nightmare. We’re having oven-baked shrimp risotto, cold lobster and grilled beef filets, tossed green salad, and a lemon-and-ricotta (gluten-free) cake. On the other hand, it should be delicious.

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A bit of a Halloween wash-out

Well, we gave Halloween a pretty good try. First, our friend Jens had given us a pumpkin that he grew in his garden, and on Sunday I carved it into a fairly decent jack-o-lantern. Jan put a small candle inside, and we set the jack-o-lantern at the top of our front steps so passing trick-or-treaters would know there were goodies inside. Here’s our carved pumpkin:

Next, we planned carefully for the goodies we wanted to hand out. Jan bought a good supply of candies that kids would really like — namely, variations on the theme of chocolate. They were also the kinds of candies that parents would like — because they were individually wrapped by the candy-maker, so parents would know they were safe. Here’s our bowl, ready to be served up:

So, what could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turned out, the weather yesterday evening was awful. The temperature had dropped a bit, but more seriously, it was raining. So Jan and I sat and sat and waited and waited.

Finally, two young girls showed up at our front door, dressed for protection from the rain so that we couldn’t see their Halloween costumes. Here they are (and I apologize in advance for the photo quality, but the lighting was terrible):

Then we went through another long period of waiting, until finally three trick-or-treaters showed up at our door. Here they are (the boy behind the front two is pretty well hidden):

After another long wait, when I was engrossed in a program in our TV room, three more trick-or-treaters showed up, and Jan reported that they were in good costumes. However, I was beyond the picture-taking stage at the point, so there is nothing more to show. The bottom line: a total eight trick-or-treaters for the evening.

By contrast — and I do mean contrast — our good friends Donna and Dave in Toronto posted a short video of their Halloween experience, in their lovely residential neighbourhood. There was Dave on the sidewalk in front of their home, handing out candies as fast as he could, as a long line of parents and kids marched past, not even bothering to go to the front door to yell “Trick or treat.” What a difference!

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Health care on the home front — literally

Like just about every country I’ve read about, France is suffering from a severely strained health care system. I’m sure you know what’s wrong: including too few doctors, too few nurses, too many long hours, and too much stress for too many health care workers. The list of problems goes on.

Near us, for instance, the excellent cardiologue (cardiologist) who runs a busy clinic near the hospital in Gourdon is retiring — and he reports that he can’t find anyone to take over the practice. Among the underlying problems: apparently, too few young people want to take the time to get the extensive education needed to become a specialist.

But there are some bright spots. On the plus side, Jan and I are quite impressed with a system of health care I hadn’t encountered before: a group of nurses who are available for home visits. The group of nurses, based in Daglan, comprise three women and one man, and all of them are efficient, knowledgeable, and always on time for appointments. You can call for their help (assuming you have a prescription from a doctor) to give vaccinations, take blood for tests, change bandages after an operation, and so on.

Earlier this week, Jan and I secured our supplies of vaccine against seasonal flu, which we picked up at no charge from a nearby pharmacy. On Wednesday evening, I phoned Daglan’s nurse service and left a message, requesting a visit on Friday morning for the actual vaccinations (we had stored the vials of vaccine in our refrigerator). On Thursday evening, the male nurse phoned us and said he would be at our house between 8:30 and 9 on Friday morning. (He actually arrived at 9:05. Still, pretty darn good.)

And here he is, at our table, administering the vaccine to Jan. Total cost for his visit (for the two of us) was just over 15 euros. It was all done quickly, with no muss or fuss. Impressive, eh?

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Two October events

Preparing for Halloween may strike you as an important chore in the month of October, but here in Daglan, well — not so much. The Halloween bug hasn’t bitten our villagers as it has in other parts of the world, including our former city of Toronto. There, decorating the fronts of houses for Halloween with ghosts, witches, coffins, spider webs and more has become virtually a competition.

Still, there are a few villagers here who have been making an effort to get ready by adding some scary bits of decoration to their homes. Here, for instance, is the front gate of a small group of apartments on Daglan’s main street:

Are you feeling sufficiently scared?

Here at our house, we’re not planning any decorations for the trick-or-treating evening, other than a carved pumpkin for the front steps. We already have the pumpkin (a gift from a neighbour, who grew it in his garden) and I’ll carve it on Sunday. (If you carve them too early, I’ve found, they have a tendency to get soft.) Jan has also bought three bags of good — and I mean good — candies: Miniature chocolate bars, rather than those awful hard candies. I figure if kids are going to brave the elements on Halloween, and spend some effort putting on costumes, they deserve the best.

Another event this month is actually a month-long campaign, intended to raise awareness of breast cancer. In France, it’s known as Octobre Rose, or Pink October.

To get behind the event, our Mayor oversees the addition of special pink decorations throughout the village. Some of them are pink ribbons; others are pink butterflies. Here’s a look at a couple:

A pink butterfly on a drainpipe at the Mayor’s office.

And here’s a ribbon, attached to the side of a house on the main street of our village:

Pink ribbons like this are mixed in with the pink butterflies for Octobre Rose.

I see this as another case of Daglan going that little bit further to support good causes (including, of course, the good cause of having a clean, attractive and well-managed village).

Unfortunately, when the Mayor called for volunteers to put up the decorations, a few weeks ago, there were only five people who showed up. Two of them were the Mayor and his wife, and one of them was a village councillor. The other two were both ex-patriates — my wife, Jan, and a friend of ours, who lives in Germany but has a holiday home here. A bit of a disappointment, I’d say, that no French residents stepped up. (And to answer the obvious question: Of course I would have been happy to volunteer along with Jan, but my mobility problems mean I can’t be scooting around and climbing up ladders.)

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A pretty perfect lunch in Paris: the meal

Our lunch last month at L’Oiseau Blanc at the top of The Peninsula, Paris, was not, as our friend Keith would say, “a cheap date.” Jan and I began with a Kir Royale (Champagne and cassis) at a hefty 32 euros a glass, and the tasting menus we enjoyed were an eye-watering 285 euros each.

However, we were in a mood to splurge. For one thing, this was a delayed celebration of Jan’s birthday, earlier in the month. For another, we were making up for the fact that a big trip to Canada in 2020 had to be cancelled because of the pandemic. After our two-night stay in Paris, we were setting out on our first international trip in four years.

In my last post, I described the restaurant, its views over Paris, the service, and a bit of history. In this post, I’m simply going to show off the food. The dishes are creations of Chef David Bizet — a veteran of top Parisian restaurants Le V, L’Orangerie and Le Taillevent — and they demonstrate pretty clearly why L’Oiseau Blanc was awarded two Michelin stars. As I recall the meal, his dishes were highly decorated, creative, surprisingly subtle, and often surprising.

I’ll skip over the large selection of amuse-bouches we were given with our Kir Royale, and go right to the first course: an array of blue lobster with, among other things, “salted praline tarama” and a shell gel. Here’s my plate:

Blue lobster gets some beautiful accompaniments.

Next came what the menu described as “leek in salt crust, iodized kiwi, braised squid and burned oyster.” (Phew!) Here it is:

An unusual dish: Leek in a salt crust.

Of the two “main” courses — fish and duck — my favourite was this serving of red mullet in a rich, concentrated sauce with endive and bottarga:

This serving of red mullet was my favourite dish.

Then came this serving of “lacquered colvert duck,” accompanied by (among other things) flamed corn:

My serving of lacquered duck.

Before the final course, we were served what the menu simply described as “pre-dessert.” I couldn’t really describe it as I spooned it up, other than to say that it was delightfully light and refreshing. Here it is:

A light and refreshing foamy dish, before dessert.

Finally came this amazing dessert — amazing because it doesn’t look like much, but tasted wonderful. The menu described it as “iodized raspberry” with meringue, condensed milk and samphire; what looks like a hard outer shell was actually incredibly delicate, light as a feather. Here’s my plate:

Delicious dessert, in an amazingly light shell.

Through the meal, we consumed two half bottles of wine — a white Sancerre and a Syrah from the banks of the Rhone — at 45 euros each.

After our espressos, we made our way out of The Peninsula, which is on Avenue Kléber in the 16th, and sank into a taxi for the ride over the Seine and back to our hotel in the 7th. I recall that not a lot of food was consumed that evening.

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A pretty perfect lunch in Paris: the place

On our trip to see family and friends in Canada last month, Jan and I flew out of Paris directly to Toronto. But we don’t just dash from the Austerlitz train station to the airport. Instead, we take advantage of the wonderful city of Paris to enjoy café life and fine-dining restaurants, by spending one or two nights in the 7th.

And this time, we had what Jan believes is the best lunch we’ve ever had, anywhere. I still rate our lunch at Belcanto in Lisbon a tiny bit higher, but I agree that our experience at L’Oiseau Blanc (the White Bird) was pretty perfect, and the best we’ve ever had in Paris.

I will show off the food in another post to follow this one, but now I’m simply going to describe the place. Along the way, we’ll explore the amazing history of the original L’Oiseau Blanc — and I don’t mean a restaurant.

The restaurant itself is on the top floor of The Peninsula, Paris, which may be the most opulent hotel I’ve ever been in. We’ve stayed at the Savoy in London, and either eaten or relaxed in the cocktail bars of the George V, the Bristol, and the Crillon in Paris, to name a few luxury hotels. But for me, The Peninsula tops them all.

First of all, The Peninsula is huge. Second, the extensive street-level network of aisles and seating areas includes a number of restaurants and high-end shops, and features a lot of gold and crystal and marble and mirrors. It’s truly impressive.

Now, what about the restaurant, and its somewhat unusual name? Well, it’s actually named for a relatively famous airplane from the 1920s — yes, L’Oiseau Blanc. Before I get into the details, here’s a look at a replica of the plane, which is suspended outside the hotel (directly in line with our restaurant table):

The plane was suspended just outside the window nearest us.

The original plane was a Levasseur PL.8 biplane, which was trying to win the Great Atlantic Air Derby, a contest created by Raymond Orteig (with a $25,000 prize). The derby’s challenge was to cross the Atlantic non-stop from Paris to New York (or vice-versa).

L’Oiseau Blanc left Paris on May 8, 1927, piloted by two World War I air heroes, Charles Nungesser and François Coli. People cheered wildly as the plane lumbered into the air, and headed west. It was last seen over Ireland — and neither the plane nor the pilots were ever found. Less than two weeks later, a young American you may have heard of — a guy named Charles Lindbergh — succeeded in crossing the Atlantic solo, from the U.S. to France.

(This story is one of countless tales told brilliantly by Bill Bryson in his amazing book One Summer, America 1927. I’ll add some more detail about the book — which I highly recommend — a bit later, but for now, back to the restaurant.)

As I’ve shown, one of the views from the restaurant is the replica of the airplane; the other windows provide a panorama of Paris, including the city’s symbol. Here’s a photo taken from our table, across the room and looking out:

That’s a pretty well known structure in the distance.

L’Oiseau Blanc has earned two Michelin stars, and they seem very well deserved. In addition to the excellence of the food, the restaurant offers just the right level of service — that is, efficient and professional and attentive, but not cloying and overdone (like the service at the three-starred Epicure in the Le Bristol Paris, which I described in “Royalty? Rock star? Or just rich?,” posted August 31, 2014).

And now for the Bryson book: As I wrote above, I highly recommend One Summer, America 1927 for several reasons. For one, it’s written in Bryson’s easy-going style, so reading it is never a struggle, despite the book being full of dates, names, and details.

More importantly, it does a brilliant job of bringing to life the world of the Roaring Twenties, not just in the U.S., but around much of the world. It covers a period that included — in addition to countless other interesting developments — how aviation developed around the world; the pioneering flights of Lindbergh and many others; the peak of Al Capone’s reign in Chicago; the carving of Mount Rushmore; the birth of talking pictures; the fascist policies then developing in Italy; the early days of Henry Ford’s company and many of his wackier ideas. If you can locate the book, buy it.

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Good and dependable — a great combination

Following extensive in-blog research, I’ve determined that I haven’t used the word “omelette” in Radio Free Daglan for more than three years. Thus, I feel I can use the word again.

It’s not that I have a particular thing about omelettes. It’s just that the omelette I had for lunch a couple of days ago at Tournepique helps to demonstrate why I think the restaurant — at the foot of the bridge crossing the Dordogne River in Castelnaud — is one of the few go-to restaurants in our immediate area.

Jan and I had gone to Tournepique on Tuesday with friends Joanne and Chris, and as always, we had an enjoyable time with lovely food. Jan and Joanne had moules frites (Jan’s must-order dish) and enjoyed every bit; Chris seemed to really like his dish of sauteed cod with vegetables; and I thought my meal of omelette Basquaise was pretty perfect. The fries were so crispy and hot that I had to let them cool a bit, and the omelette itself was expertly made, light and fluffy, and filled with the yummy Basque sauce of tomatoes, onions and peppers. My lunch was only 14 euros, and it was so ample I couldn’t finish it. Have a look:

Delicious omelette, piping hot fries — pretty great stuff.

When we left the restaurant for the drive back to Daglan, the review was unanimous: Tournepique is good, and dependable. In other words, a place you can always count on. And are there many businesses that deserve such a verdict?

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Comfort food, between slices of bread

What do you think of if you’re asked to name a favourite “comfort food”? I Googled the topic, and came up with all sorts of items that I can’t disagree are comforting to many people — ranging from macaroni and cheese to fish and chips, from pizza to chili, from warm apple pie with ice cream to sauerbraten. I could add many more, and I assume you could too.

Funnily enough, some of the “comfort foods” that I miss most here in France are sandwiches. I say “funnily enough” because I don’t eat a lot of sandwiches. (We don’t keep much bread around the house, for one thing, because Jan is allergic to gluten.) But when I think of short, easy, enjoyable meals, I often think of certain sandwiches.

On our recent trip back to Toronto, I went to some effort to find a restaurant where I could enjoy one of my all-time favourites — the Reuben sandwich. Either the restaurants I searched for simply didn’t serve them, or the restaurant was closed on a day when we were free for lunch. Ah well. Maybe next time.

Reuben sandwiches aside, I do hold a special place in my comfort-food memory bank for several other sandwiches: smoked turkey breast on light rye bread with both mayonnaise and cranberry sauce (a Thanksgiving must); tuna salad on whole wheat; a fried egg sandwich on just about any kind of bread; and Montreal smoked meat on rye with mustard.

I suppose the only French sandwich I like — and I do really, really like them — is a good croque-monsieur. As for other popular French sandwiches — ham and cheese in a baguette, for instance — in my mind, the ratio of chewy bread to tasty filling is simply too high.

I did satisfy a craving for another comfort-food sandwich on our trip to Toronto. And here it is, as it was served at a cozy café-bar called the Prohibition Social House:

A perfect bun, excellent beef: What a great cheeseburger should be.

And while I was pretty well satisfied after working my way through the burger (and fries), I did also manage to chomp this serious piece of cheesecake:

Can you say “indulgent”?
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Missing ingredients

You probably know that Jan and I are quite happy here in Daglan, enjoying a calm, low-traffic, low-hassle life, with just about everything we need or want. However, there are a few missing ingredients, which for me tends to mean particular foods that I grew to love in North America (first in the U.S., and then in Canada).

Of course, most of all we miss family and friends, most of whom live in or around Toronto, where Jan and I spent most of our working lives. But at least they can visit us here in France, and in return we can see them in Toronto (which we’ve just visited again).

Still, it’s sometimes frustrating that we can’t enjoy the various food items that we took for granted in Toronto — a huge variety of breads (from bagels to rye to whole wheat to pumpernickel to sourdough), good hamburgers, sweet summer corn on the cob, and Italian food in general. (On the last point, I remain mystified that Italy seems to have so little influence here, compared with Spain; for instance, I’ve never found a pizza topped with Italian sausage here, whereas slices of chorizo are a common pizza topping.)

However, we did manage to fill a few of those gaps on our recent Canadian trip, including a wonderful Saturday lunch with friends Darlene and Rob at a restaurant/bar/market/butcher shop called Speducci Mercatto. The word speducci was new to me — it refers to an appetizer made of small cubes of meat (about the size of sugar cubes), marinated (in a mix of olive oil, lemon juice, and oregano), and then skewered and grilled.

Here’s a look at the main grocery area and butcher’s counter at Speducci Mercatto:

The Speducci counter: Seriously Italian

For my lunch, I started with two skewers of grilled lamb speducci (delicious, and just $3 each), and then went on to a generous bowl of wild boar strozzapreti (at $27). In case you’re not familiar with strozzapreti, it’s an elongated form of hand-rolled pasta, and has the amusing meaning of “priest choker.” Here’s my serving of strozzapreti, rich with the wild boar sauce:

Does this look Italian or what?

So far, I’ve found only one truly good Italian restaurant in France — unfortunately, it’s in Paris, which is a bit of a hike from Daglan. For now, it’s a case of enjoying my memories. And in my next posting, I plan to rave just a bit more about some other missing ingredients — like the good old North American cheeseburger and boiled corn on the cob, drizzled with melted butter.

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Going beyond (way beyond) the GDA

Every now and then, it’s good to move out of our routine in the Greater Daglan Area and head to other adventures. Especially when those adventures include meeting up with family and friends in the city where Jan and I spent virtually all of our working lives — Toronto.

Like so many of you, our international travel plans hit a brick wall a couple of years ago, as the Covid pandemic closed borders. So a major trip planned for September 2020 had to be cancelled, and our only travel for the next couple of years was within France.

In any case, we’ve now completed the major journey from Gourdon to Paris (by train) and then on to Toronto (by Air Transat plane), and back again. Over the next few days, I’ll be posting a few highlights of our trip — although, for reasons of privacy, I won’t be showing off the wonderful times spent with family (including children and grandchildren) and some of our closest friends.

I’ll begin with just a single photo, taken one evening by our good friend Elisabeth, who has a holiday home near our house in Daglan, and who visited Toronto with her husband Gerhard while we were there. (It was their first trip to North America, and we think they truly enjoyed it.) This photo shows the Toronto skyline at night, looking from the east across a large park to the city centre:

Toronto glistens at night.
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