Dainty but delicious dishes

For the second week in a row, our Sunday lunch was the 26-euro take-out special from the excellent restaurant Le Grand Bleu. On Friday I had telephoned the chef, Maxime Lebrun, to place our order, and yesterday Jan drove to Sarlat to pick up our meals, at a “chalet” across the street from the post office. (Le Grand Bleu itself remains closed, other than for take-out meals, because of the pandemic.)

Obviously anyone calling himself or herself a chef must be able to cook well, and particularly the foods of their region or culture; but a really good chef also knows what combinations of flavour, texture and colour can be added to the dish to increase the diner’s enjoyment; Chef Lebrun is one of those.

Our entrée was, in my view, not the most appealing looking dish I’ve ever had, but it was certainly tasty. My first course — slices of marinated trout with two sauces — nori and passion fruit, is shown below:

Two sauces for the marinated trout, to begin.

The main course was, I thought, more visually appealing, and even more delicious. It featured meltingly tender roast loin of veal and a “piperade” sauce made with mint, accompanied by some perfectly cooked white and green asparagus. Have a look:

Tender veal, perfect asparagus.

Our desserts really showed off Chef’s ability to put unusual flavour combinations to good effect. The starting point was a black olive macaron, filled with a whipped green cream and fresh strawberries. Jan and I both loved the cream, but couldn’t quite identify the taste. So I double-checked the menu: it turned out to be a crème d’asperge verte au basilic, meaning that Chef is making full use of the seasonal vegetable. More importantly, it really was delicious. Here’s my dessert:

Asparagus crème? Delicious!

For the previous Sunday lunch, Jan and I rated it as 8 out of a possible 10. But yesterday’s meal scored a perfect 10. Had the dishes been a bit less dainty — which is to say a bit more generous — it could have scored an 11.

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A fence and a fire

You may remember that in “Putting our sheep to work” (April 15), I described a request from our Mayor for volunteers to gather on April 22 to help build a fence on a hill next to Daglan’s cemetery. The goal was to create an enclosure so that sheep could be put to occasional use as living lawn mowers. Here’s how I began that posting:

Éco-pâturage, as I’m sure you know, refers to the practice of employing grazing animals for mowing, which of course saves time and resources, reduces the hard work of maintenance, and respects biodiversity. Okay, I didn’t know what it meant either. But it turns out that we in Daglan are very much in favour of éco-pâturage, and in fact are being asked to help implement it.

So last Thursday, the volunteer program was completed, and I’m pleased to say that Jan played an important role in the fence-building, by ensuring that each fence post was kept truly vertical as it was being driven into the ground. Now here’s a quick photographic review, starting with an overview of the volunteers on the hill:

The volunteers at the base of the hill.

The turn-out of volunteers was good (many hands make light work, you know), and so most of the fence-post planting was done in the morning, while the wire fencing was stapled into place later in the day. Here’s a look at the fence, from the cemetery side of the hill:

The fence as seen from the edge of the cemetery.

Of course all work and no play is a drag, and so the volunteers were able to take a well-earned break for coffee. Here’s the group:

A coffee break for the volunteers.

What I haven’t seen yet are the sheep, and I’m not sure how often they will be needed for mowing. (They will be brought into the village by a young local sheep breeder.) But if I get a glimpse of them, you can be sure I’ll record the sight for blog posterity.

Another catastrophe for the GDA. In another recent posting, I described how a major flood had shut down one of the best restaurants in the Greater Daglan Area (the GDA), the charming O Moulin in Carsac. This past weekend, our area suffered another disaster, which Jan and I learned about on Monday morning. This time the cause was fire.

We had begun the week knowing that a company called Inova Cuisine would be installing a fitted kitchen for friends, and were anxious to know how quickly the work could be done — and what the finished kitchen would look like. But when Jan checked out the daily journal SudOuest on her computer, she said to me — “Well, they won’t be getting their kitchen this week.”

What had happened over the weekend was a truly major fire, one that was fought by nearly 60 firefighters from all over the area. The fire devoured 2,000 square metres of Inova’s buildings, and we later learned that the destruction represented about half of the company’s products. And wouldn’t you know it, but our friends’ kitchen cabinets had been stored in the building that burned.

Jan and I know Inova well, and are impressed with it. It’s located in the hamlet of Campagnac-lès-Quercy, just about nine kilometres south of Daglan. We visited the company some years ago, intending to look at new tops for our kitchen counters — and wound up buying a completely new kitchen. Inova designed it, supplied all the appliances, and built and installed all the cabinet work. That was in the summer of 2013 (yikes — that’s eight years ago!). Here’s a view of the Inova truck that was parked in front of our house while the installation was taking place:

An Inova van parked near our house in 2013.

On the plus side, the people at Inova have been working like crazy to catch up with their projects, and have brought in additional workers. And today our friends learned that their new kitchen will be ready for installation next Wednesday. Pretty impressive.

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Fine dining: taste treats, and a sad tale

This posting includes two tales: A description of today’s tasty take-out lunch from Le Grand Bleu, our favourite restaurant in Sarlat, and the sad story of a catastrophe at O Moulin, the wonderful restaurant in Carsac that I’ve raved about many times in the past. First, today’s lunch.

Our entrée was a roll of cold poached chicken breast, wrapped around a morsel of red pepper, and accompanied by a confit of red pepper and (oddly, I thought) a few slices of smoked sturgeon. Here’s my serving, as it appeared on the take-out plate from Le Grand Bleu. (By the way, the talented chef, Maxime Lebrun, proudly told Jan this morning that all his containers are recyclable. Hurrah!)

I could have done without the sturgeon.

The chicken was tender, and went well with the red pepper confit. But neither Jan nor I cared for the smoked sturgeon. The taste was fine, but the thin slices were surprisingly tough, and we finally reverted to steak knives to cut smaller pieces; then came a lot of chewing.

We fared better with the main course — steamed cod served on a bed of (French) risotto, and accompanied by a few pieces of white asparagus from our region. Here’s my plate:

Nicely done, if you like cream in your risotto.

You may have noticed that I wrote “French” risotto, because the French seem to think (unlike the Italians, who originated the dish) that cream should be added. So it tastes fine, but is a bit “gloopy,” to use a sophisticated cooking term. I enjoyed my dish, but Jan complained that her rice was a bit under-done; the grains of rice were a bit hard in the centre.

We did quite well on desserts. Because Jan is allergic to gluten, Chef substituted a (wheat-free) macaron as her dessert, served with fresh fruit and a mango mousse. Here it is:

Jan’s colourful dessert.

Jan’s dessert certainly came first in the visual department, but my rather modest-looking tarte au citron vert (key lime pie) served with an Italian meringue topping, and seated on a chocolate cookie, was ab-fab. As I said to Jan when I finished it: “Well, I could five more of those.” Here’s my dessert:

Low on looks, high in taste.

The take-out menu from Le Grand Bleu is available on order, and the dishes can be picked up at the central square in Sarlat (across from the post office) rather than at the restaurant. The cost is a reasonable 26 euros for three courses. For today’s meal, Jan and I agreed it deserved a Radio Free Daglan Score (or RFDS) of 8 out of 10; the mark-downs were for the chewy sturgeon and the not-so-authentic risotto. But I’m sure we’ll be ordering from Le Grand Bleu again.

The sad tale of O Moulin. For quite a while, we had missed the take-out menu from O Moulin, and wondered just what was going on. Had they given up because of the pandemic, or what? The restaurant’s Facebook page referred to a flood, but I figured that would be a minimal problem.

After all, take a look at this photo, of the restaurant’s front entrance:

The depression for the stream is in the foreground.

In the foreground, by the trees, you can see a depression — which is where a relatively small stream flows, making its way into the Dordogne River. In fact, the stream actually runs under the restaurant, and is quite attractive. But it seemed to me that it would be nearly impossible for the stream to flood enough to shut down the restaurant.

Finally, this past Friday Jan and I were shopping in Sarlat, which is not far from Carsac, and so we decided to drive to O Moulin and see what we could see. Well, the first view wasn’t promising — the menus had been taken down from the display case beside the path into the restaurant, and replaced by a “closed” sign, and there was a chain across the little bridge over the stream.

Nevertheless, Jan went under the chain and spoke to both the chef and his partner, and learned that the restaurant had truly suffered a major flood — it seems a dam far up the river broke, sending a torrent of water down from the hills. The result? The water actually washed away the wooden terrace at the front of the restaurant; destroyed all the kitchen equipment; and flooded the whole restaurant to a depth of 80 centimetres.

As you can imagine, the restaurateurs are working hard to bring the place back to life — but it involves a lot of negotiations about insurance, and a lot of plain hard work, including getting rid of the ruined equipment and then re-painting the walls. So far, no date has been set for completion. What a shame.

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Stepping through a vaccination centre

Literally millions of people around the world have now received one or even two vaccinations to protect them against Covid 19. But I’ve just had my first injection, and so I’m going to describe my experience, step-by-step, in case you’re wondering how it all takes place (at least here in rural France).

My appointment was for 11:10 a.m. (precise, eh?) yesterday morning, and Jan and I made it into the parking lot in Sarlat just about on time. There were a few nervous minutes as I waited for one of the world’s most cautious drivers to back out of her parking spot, so I could park my car. (Would I lose my place, if I was even five minutes late?) In any case, Jan and I arrived at the entrance to the Centre Cultural Paul Eluard (converted into a vaccination centre) to find quite a number of people sitting or standing around. So, how long would I have to wait?

As it turned out, my wait lasted only a few minutes, just enough time for us to chat with a few people Jan and I know. Every few minutes, a young man would emerge from the centre and bark out someone’s last name, calling them in for their appointment. The photo below shows the entrance, but it was taken as I left the vaccination centre just before the noon break, which is why so few people can be seen:

Entry and exit, near the end of the morning shift.

The young man who called me into the centre directed me to a desk where a woman sat at a computer, ready to sign me in. She asked a few questions, verified my identity, and gave me a form to complete — and then the same young man led me to a table to await the doctor, and to complete my form. Here’s a photo of the doctor who emerged from his temporary “office” to deal with the patient ahead of me:

The doctor checks a patient ahead of me.

Once the doctor fetched me, he sat me down and reviewed the questionnaire I had completed. Then he explained what we all (at least, most of us) already now know about the vaccine — that it’s effective in preventing the disease, that there might be side effects, and that the side effects would probably be not much more than a slightly sore arm. (And that’s what I had this morning — barely sore at all. As I write this, the soreness has pretty much disappeared.)

After the doctor completed his chat, he directed me a few feet forward, to the next enclosure, where a nurse gave me the actual injection. Honestly, it was so pain-free that I almost didn’t believe her when she said it was done. So that’s good news, if you’re the least bit concerned.

Pretty much the last step was for the nurse to direct me to a large area (photo below) where those of us who had been vaccinated had to wait for our details to be entered into a computer. Finally, a young woman approached me, handed me the notification for my second vaccination, and said I could leave.

The last wait, before departure.

All in all, not a difficult experience — just a bit boring, with several long-ish periods of waiting. I’d estimate the total time for my vaccination to be about 50 minutes. And after that? Well, I returned to my car, and Jan and I drove to the McDonald’s just north of the cultural centre for a cheeseburger-and-fries lunch. Always thinking ahead, we had brought with us two small thermos bottles of white wine. Guilty pleasures!

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Putting our sheep to work

Éco-pâturage, as I’m sure you know, refers to the practice of employing grazing animals for mowing, which of course saves time and resources, reduces the hard work of maintenance, and respects biodiversity.

Okay, I didn’t know what it meant either. But it turns out that we in Daglan are very much in favour of éco-pâturage, and in fact are being asked to help implement it.

Specifically, the office of our Mayor is asking for bénévoles, or volunteers, to show up near the village cemetery a week from today (Thursday, April 22) at 9 a.m. to help install a fence on a grassy area. The reason for the fence? It will enclose grazing sheep, provided by a local breeder, and that’s a situation which the Mayor promises to be gagnant-gagnant (win-win, to you).

You may recall that I’ve previously written about the Mayor’s program of employing volunteers for various civic projects. In “Volunteering — with brushes in hand” (July 9, 2020), I described how volunteers were going through our area to clean and then paint all the calvaires (monuments with a crucifix). Earlier this year, I posted “Drag out those hip-waders” (February 22) to encourage volunteers to help clean fallen trees and other debris from the banks of our Céou River.

If you don’t think you’d feel too sheepish about helping with the éco-pâturage next Thursday, you should confirm your participation by contacting the Mairie at 05 – 53 – 28 – 41 – 16.

Keeping up with the Thai restaurant: Enjoying Thai food from Sawadee, the restaurant in nearby Cénac, is turning out to be a moveable feast. Its reopening has been pushed back from April to May 7, presumably because of delays caused by the pandemic. Jan and I, and various friends, are counting the days.

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Buds into blooms — hurrah!

My regular springtime reporting on our glycine vines continues. Just two and half weeks ago, on March 22, I posted “A nice early start (for our wisteria)” and showed off the flowers that were just developing on the vine that grows on the right-hand side of our front stairs.

(Just in case you were in any doubt, that would be the “right-hand side” as you face the house, and not as you look out from the steps.)

This is what the ends of that vine looked like:

Almost ready to become actual flowers.

Now, what a difference two and half weeks can make. Here is the same section of vine as of this afternoon:

A pretty nice display.

And what about the vine on the left-hand side? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Rien. Could it be time to rip it out and install a honeysuckle?

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Our odd Easter lunch

Jan and I did have some doubts about ordering the take-away menu from Daglan’s Le Petit Paris for our Easter lunch. The main elements — foie gras, slow-cooked lamb, and a Caribbean-sort of dessert — all seemed fine. But there were some odd touches that were, well, odd.

As it turned out, the odd touches did detract from the meal, considerably.

To begin, there was a terrine of foie gras — which we usually enjoy a great deal. But with the Le Petit Paris version was to be “houmous au tahini de noix,” which seemed distinctly unlike the more usual “sweet” accompaniment, such as a fig chutney. And indeed the savoury hummus with walnut tahini added nothing to the foie, and I left mine on the side of the plate. The other problem (which might not seem like a problem) is that the serving of the foie gras was simply too big. It was certainly moist and tasty and so on, but hard to finish. Here’s my serving (with a piece of the soft, salty roll that came with the dish):

Very good indeed — but just too large a portion.

Next came the plat principal, lamb that had been cooked for seven hours. I thought the lamb was tender enough, but it was accompanied by a “caviar d’aubergines relevé aux anchois.” That accompaniment was, well, simply too odd for me. For one thing, the plate looked like a large pool of brown goo, and so I’m not going to disturb you with a photo of it. I did eat the lamb, but I’m not sure I got beyond a tiny taste of the eggplant and anchovies.

Finally, the menu promised a crème caraïbe chocolat/pistache, which again sounded pretty good, since I enjoy both chocolate and pistachio flavours. But this time it was the construction of the dessert that was odd. The main part of the dessert came in a bowl, with the pistachio cream on the bottom, and a thick chocolate ganache sitting on top. Then, on the side, there was a soft (and very good) chocolate sponge, like a cupcake. Once I had eaten most of the ganache, I wound up dunking the chocolate sponge into the pistachio cream. All in all, it was good — except for the odd, and not very attractive, construction. Here’s my plate:

A dessert that didn’t quite hang together.

Our final verdict: Jan and I probably should have made a roast leg of lamb lunch for ourselves, and the chef at Le Petit Paris should rein in his wilder excesses.

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A late-March delight

“Guess what!” exclaimed Jan, when she returned home this morning after a trip to the weekly Daglan market. “The gariguettes have arrived!”

Temporarily, I was stunned — who were the Gariguettes? Were they a family I should remember? (Forgetting things is, well, not uncommon for me.)

No, of course, not. They were gariguette strawberries, always the first French strawberries to be available each spring. Here’s how another website once described these beauties:

“They are small, soft and aromatic, reminiscent of wild strawberries. They taste simply fantastic. … Gariguettes are grown in the area between Carpentras, Avignon and Cavaillon, mostly under plastic tunnels to ripen early.”

So of course we both had to have a bowl of gariguettes, drizzled with cream, as our dessert after lunch today. And here is my pre-cream bowl:

A real taste of early spring.

An update on Thai take-out: Recently we had quite a frustrating experience trying to order food from Sawadee, the very good Thai restaurant in nearby Cénac (that I’ve written about often). Jan phoned its two different numbers, several times, and either got no reply at all or a recording that said to leave a message. But no one ever called back, despite the fact that its website said the restaurant should have been re-opened (after its annual winter break).

Subsequent trips past the restaurant showed absolutely no activity, and we wondered if the couple who run Sawadee had become “trapped” in Thailand, unable to travel because of the Covid pandemic.

In any case, the website has just been updated, and it’s now promising that the restaurant will re-open on April 16. Fingers crossed.

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A nice early start (for our wisteria)

Pretty much each spring I provide a report on our two glycine — that would be wisteria vines, in English — to indicate not only how the vines themselves are growing, but to give you a snapshot of our weather.

Last year, for instance, I posted “Another tale of two vines” (April 11) to compare and contrast the flowering productivity of the vine on the left of our front steps and the vine on the right.

This year I’m starting a bit earlier, as today was nice and sunny, and there was some early evidence of growth on the vines. And sure enough, it looks like the right-hand vine is going to out-do its neighbour on the left once again.

Here’s a look at the right-hand vine, starting to produce the growths that will eventually become flowers:

Let’s let these develop for a bit longer, and then take another look when they are in full bloom.

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The view from the vaccination pit

When was the last time you worried about polio? A long time ago, or never? That would make sense, because the disease has been essentially wiped out through an intense vaccination program. Today it’s estimated that polio has been 99.9% eradicated throughout the world.

But that wasn’t the case when I was a child. In the late 1940s, especially in summer, parents were terrified to let their children out of the house, for fear they would catch the disease (which affects young people in particular). As it happens, my father had polio as a youth; although he survived to a ripe old age (96), he always walked with a limp, because the muscles in his left leg were much weaker than in his right leg. And I still remember photos of hospitalized children lying in “iron lungs” (mechanical respirators), fighting to breathe.

And then, of course, along came the Salk vaccine, which was approved in 1955 in the U.S., and was used in a massive vaccination program. A few years later, along came the oral vaccine.

In my own case, I believe I had the inoculation (the Salk vaccine) while in elementary school, although it is so long ago that I’ve forgotten the details, and I may have had the oral vaccine. In any case, I was free of the disease, as were all my classmates.

Which of course brings us to today, and the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept the world, killed thousands, and caused huge economic as well as personal and social damage. And here in enlightened France, what is being done about vaccinations? Frankly, not much.

Jan has checked out the appropriate website many times, and still can’t make an appointment for a vaccination. When she tried phoning (many times), the phone just rang and rang, or someone would answer and say that she should try again. There has not even been an attempt to reserve a day and time — which is what would happen if you wanted a “regular” appointment with your dentist or doctor. (Nurse: “We can book you in for April 16, at 4 p.m. Would that work?” You: “Yes, that’s fine. I’ll put that in my calendar.”)

And yet French officials keep bragging about opening new vaccination centres, but without vaccines to put into people’s arms.

It’s made me think of a well-to-do country that wants to improve its citizens’ health, and so it sets about building a host of public swimming pools, to be available free, located in cities, towns and rural communities across the land. All good, except that the pools are empty — the officials cannot decide if they should use chlorinated water, un-chlorinated water, tap water, distilled water, or whatever. So nothing is done.

And that’s pretty much the approach here in Europe, in mid-March 2021. Not impressive.

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