Snow joke!

Snow joke? Well, actually, “it’s no joke” that Daglan received its first snowfall of the winter last night, although it was nowhere near the depth of the snowfall that covered much of New York State (and notably, the city of Buffalo) recently. Still, our snow is noteworthy because we get so little of it each winter — and even then it’s usually flurries.

Jan and I noticed the large, fluffy flakes falling late yesterday afternoon, and figured that not much of it would remain. Any flakes falling on the road melted almost immediately.

But this morning, there was evidence that a decent amount had fallen, and remained. As is typical in this sort of climate, any snow that falls is liable to stick to surfaces that are colder than the streets, which typically absorb the sun’s heat and thus melt the flakes. So today you could find at least some snow on trees, roofs, plants, and some cars.

Here, as an example, is a view from our front door this morning, looking past our doorbell to a neighbour’s vine, with traces of snow on the leaves:

Looking beyond our door bell.

The thickest collections of snow were on cars — the roofs, and any slanted windows. For instance, here’s the windshield of my car (in the foreground) with Jan’s car just next to mine:

Fortunately, the layers of snow were easy to push off the cars.

On the plus side, the snow — even though sparse — added to the attractiveness of the landscape around Daglan. Here’s a view from a large parking lot towards the Céou River:

A pretty mid-winters scene, on the banks of the Céou River.

The snow did bring a few problems. My aquagym class was cancelled, for instance, because the pool was just too cold. Friends of ours in Sarlat, whose house is down a slope at the end of a long driveway, couldn’t drive up to a main road, because their drive was so slippery. And the front page of Sud-Ouest featured a car in our area that had slid off the road into a ditch, because the road was covered in ice. Still, it was all pretty manageable — and I expect that by tomorrow, most of the snow will have melted.

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Dish du jour — January 18, 2023

While I’m calling this a dish du jour with today’s date, the photo below was actually taken this past weekend, while we were having lunch at our favourite nearby restaurant, O Moulin, in Carsac, about 25 minutes from Daglan.

This was the entrée chosen by my wife Jan to start her meal (although technically we had begun with an assortment of amuse-bouches, including an absolutely delicious serving of cream of chestnut soup). Here’s Jan’s pretty dish of scallops:

A pretty dish to begin a meal.

On the restaurant’s menu, the dish was described as Normandy scallops with Camembert ravioli in a mushroom sauce with cider gel. Because Jan is allergic to gluten, the ravioli were left off the dish. But no complaints from Jan — and I thought the dish was lovely.

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The Mayor’s Speech, 2023

Another step back to normality (after the restrictions caused by the Covid pandemic) was taken last night, as villagers gathered in our community hall to trade New Year’s good wishes; listen to the Mayor’s update on village life; and linger over a meal.

Much of the evening echoed previous events: a late start (convened for 6:30 p.m., the event actually started closer to 7 p.m. when the Mayor took his place at the microphone); a friendly, informal atmosphere; and a slide show to illustrate the Mayor’s comments (including the opening slide shown below):

The opening screen, as our evening began.

At the front of the hall was Mayor Pascal Dussol, with a number of the municipal counsellors. M. Dussol has been our Mayor since 2014, and is known for his local knowledge and his hands-on, no-nonsense approach to municipal governance. Here he is, addressing the crowd:

Daglan’s Mayor, with some of his team behind him.

This year’s review of municipal activities had a number of themes. One of the most prominent was the effort put into keeping Daglan an attractive place to live. So there were slides of volunteers cleaning out the Céou River and weeding flower beds and painting the memorials scattered through the village.

A significant part of the Mayor’s speech was devoted to the Villes et Villages Fleuris program, which is best described as France’s quality-of-life program for municipalities throughout the country. As I wrote in the March 22, 2022 posting, Daglan is the second smallest village in the Dordogne département with three flowers (out of a possible four) under the program. Signs highlighting this achievement are posted at the three main entrances to Daglan:

Highlighting Daglan’s success in this national program.

I won’t even attempt to cover all the programs and events of 2022 that were highlighted in the Mayor’s speech, because there were so many: From pruning road-side trees to prepare for the installation of fiber optics; to renovating the village’s primary school; to supporting the Octobre Rose campaign for breast cancer awareness. At the end of M. Dussol’s remarks, the applause of the villagers was enthusiastic.

And at the end of the program, there were some friendly, personal touches: New residents of Daglan were asked to stand and be welcomed; and awards for the best gardens in the village were presented. All this continues to make us feel happy we’re here.

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Some after-the-holidays notes

Well, I certainly hope that you had a better time over the year-end holidays than Jan and I did. What happened is that we were laid low by illness just before Christmas, and have only recovered in the days following the start of 2023.

Jan had it worse — flu-like symptoms, loss of energy, loss of appetite. For three days, she ate virtually nothing; finally she filled a prescription for antibiotics and started to get relief; today she is pretty much back to normal. As for me, my problems started with a seriously sore throat, and developed into a persistent cough and a chest cold.

As for the beautiful lobster lunch we were to have on Christmas Day? Nope. We finally had lobster with mayonnaise and fries a few days later, and the day after that, Jan finished using up the lobster in a rich cheese sauce over penne.

Ah well. We’re fine now, and I realize that a lot of folks had things much worse than we did. Still, I thought I’d share that news, which in part explains why there has been no posting on Radio Free Daglan for a while.

Weather? It would be nice to see the sun. Compared with many parts of the world, winters in Daglan are pretty easy — no big snow storms, and in fact no little snow storms. We did have one period of exceptional cold, but that lasted just a few days. Now we are in a period of relatively cool, but still tolerable, temperatures. But seeing grey skies all the time does get a bit tiresome.

Food, glorious food. A few days before Christmas, we drove south for an hour or so and enjoyed lunch with friends Sarah and Karl, who live just outside Cahors. The lunch was in the ground-floor restaurant of a hotel in Cahors itself, and I thought it was worth sharing some highlights.

The hotel is called La Chartreuse, and actually it’s not the most attractive building. However, it’s perched right on the Lot River, and so the view from our table in the restaurant was a pleasant one. Here’s a look:

That’s the Lot River, just a few feet from our table.

Several things struck me about the meals we were served. First of all, the food was uniformly good. Second, the presentation showed that the kitchen understands the value of good-looking dishes. Third, the quantities were certainly generous. And finally, the price was a real bargain. I’ll show off just a few eye-catching dishes of our three-course lunches, starting with Jan’s potimarron soup:

Now this is how to make a bowl of soup look appealing.

Usually, when I provide a photograph of soup — no matter how delicious the soup may be — it simply looks boring. After all, soup is basically a liquid in a bowl of some sort. But look at what Jan received — a crispy slice of bacon on one edge, decorations around the edge of the bowl, and a spoonful of crème fraîche in the centre.

For my entrée. I chose the cocotte egg with black truffle, and received this plate — the soft-boiled egg was flavoured with generous slices of black truffle, and the plate was covered in a variety of breads, all of which were delicious. Here’s my plate:

A bread-dunker’s paradise.

For dessert, I ordered the omelette Quercynoise, which could best be described as a local version of a baked Alaska.

(Quercynoise refers to the region of Quercy, which, as the Encyclopaedia Britannica explains, is an “… historic and cultural region encompassing most of the southwestern French départements of Lot and Tarn-et-Garonne and coextensive with the former district of Quercy. The district was organized in Gallo-Roman times as a civitas of the Cadurci, a Celtic people whose name is reflected in that of Quercy.” Feel better?)

Now, since the region is famous for walnuts (among other delicacies, including truffles), my omelette came with a nice shot glass of walnut liqueur. Here it is:

The walnut liqueur was nice added touch.

Now, as to price: The four of us consumed a bottle of wine plus three kir (white wine with cassis), and of course the three-course meal for all four of us, followed by coffees for three of us. We split the bill, and each couple paid a grand total of 55 euros. Now that, to me, is a bargain for this kind of quality.

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A few pre-Christmas notes

After several years of living here, Jan and I seem to have quietly adopted the French approach to Christmas — which is to say, celebrate it, but don’t overdo it.

In the main village square, there is a large and rather nice Christmas tree (previously featured in Radio Free Daglan), but you won’t find any of the over-the-top house decorations that have become the norm in Canada. You know: Inflated Santas, sleds and plastic reindeer on front lawns, coloured lights all over the place.

Our own practice now is to put up a few modest Christmas decorations, while most of the home’s Christmas flavour comes from the holiday cards which we receive and hang up around our living room. This year, however, Jan did find a particularly attractive wreath to hang on the wall just outside our front door. And here it is:

The wreath at our front door.

Jan bought this at the flower shop in neighbouring Cénac where we regularly buy cut flowers, arrangements, and potted decorative plants.The shop is handy, the owner is a pleasant and helpful woman, and it’s close.

Call me hide-bound: But I personally like the idea of Christmas cards that are printed on actual paper. I know that electronic messages can be attractive and clever, but they arrive, are admired for 10 seconds, and then disappear.

On the other hand, paper cards arrive in the mail, when very few other items do these days. And they last. And they can be used to decorate the house, by stringing them up. So each year I write out 50 or 60 addresses on envelopes, and Jan and I write something inside each card, and off they go to the Post Office. And we look forward to receiving the cards from family members and friends.

As a very small side note, my favourite address to write each Christmas is for a friend in Toronto who lives on — wait for it — Yule Avenue! Is that Christmassy, or what?

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Lunching at the foot of a château

If you’ve ever wondered what a traditional lunch in Southwest France would include, look no further. We enjoyed just such a lunch on Sunday, in a restaurant that lies at the base of the massive Château Biron, a few kilometres south of the historic bastide village of Monpazier.

Our lunch was actually a social outing, organized by the Daglan Friendship Club — le Club de l’Amitié Daglanaise. Most of the attendees travelled by bus, while Jan and I drove, and met up with two friends at the restaurant, L’Auberge de Biron. The four of us killed time for more than 30 minutes as we waited for the travel-by-bus group to arrive, but eventually everyone showed up.

Before I get to the lunch itself, here’s a look at Château Biron, as seen from the road leading up to the castle and its surrounding village. It’s an impressive place, which Jan and I have toured in years gone by. It’s worth a visit if you’re touring the area, as you might imagine from this photo:

Château Biron as seen at a distance, as we approached.

Our group had exclusive run of the restaurant, so service was quick and efficient, as well as friendly. Once we were settled at the long table provided for us, we began by toasting each other with sangria maison. Here’s a look down the table:

Toasting with sangria to begin the meal.

The next course was a rich butternut squash soup, flavoured with finely ground chestnuts (I wrote walnuts, in the original version of this posting), and quite delicious. Here’s my bowl:

The rich soup, flavoured with ground chestnuts.

As the entrée, we were served slices of terrine au pâté d’oie fumée, which is a paté made of smoked goose. Sometimes terrines like this are served with some sort of chutney, but our plate included a bit of green salad. The coarse paté could be spread onto slices of bread, or eaten in chunks. Here’s my plate:

Goose terrine and a small bit of salad.

For the plat principal, the menu said we would be served Croustillant de canard (crunchy duck), along with root vegetables and mashed potatoes. As you can see, the crunchiness was provided by phyllo pastry; what you can’t see is that the duck inside the pastry was a good-sized portion of shredded confit. The whole thing was quite good, although by this point, I was starting to feel a bit stretched, and didn’t finish all the duck. Anyway, here’s my serving:

Crispy duck was the main event, and the pastry bundle held shredded confit of duck.

In a traditional French meal, a cheese course is nearly imperative, and always served before dessert. (The English-speaking members of our club once prepared a British-themed lunch for our club, and the French members loved virtually all of the meal — but simply could not comprehend why we had offered cheese at the very end of the meal, after dessert.) At our lunch on Sunday, a few slices of a peppery cheese were served with another small salad. Here’s my plate:

Cheese always — and I mean always — precedes the dessert.

Finally, a dessert called Moelleux pommes et noix crème anglaise finished off our meal. As you can see, it was a moist cake filled with pieces of apple, which happens to be a favourite of mine. Here it is:

Moist and delicious apple cake to close out the meal, with coffees.

So this was certainly not the “fine dining” experience I’ve written about before, but the lunch was indeed a pleasure. Congratulations to the staff at L’Auberge de Biron. And in case you were wondering, the menu price was listed as 27 euros, but club members had to pay just 20 euros. Pretty good deal.

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Our tree gets an 8 out of 10

For some years now, it’s a tradition for Radio Free Daglan to show off the village Christmas tree. I believe this tradition dates back to 2013, for a special reason. As I wrote in a later posting, “…the scrawny tree in 2013 must have set some sort of worldwide all-time municipal record for being just plain awful.” You can find it for yourself in our archives.

Since that miserable example of decorating the village square, we’ve seen dramatic improvements. And this year’s tree seems once more to merit some positive reviews. Here it is:

Presenting Daglan’s 2022 Christmas tree.

For my part, I’ve given it a score of 8 out of a possible 10. Definitely positive points for being well-shaped and symmetrical; the deduction is simply for not being larger and fuller. What say you?

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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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