Snowdrops and Saharan sand

Yesterday morning when we looked out our front window, Jan and I both exclaimed that the sky looked weird. Like, really weird. That’s because it was uniformly coloured a light orange. Hmmm.

A bit later, when I went out to take away the garbage and recycling, I noticed that both our cars were completely speckled in a light grey-orange powder, stuck to the cars because they were wet from the night’s rain.

Then the light went on in my wee brain, and my deduction has since been confirmed by various news reports: The orange sky was caused by clouds of dust and sand from the Sahara desert — blown across the Mediterranean by strong winds, eventually to drop to earth in southern France. This has happened before, but never so dramatically in the 10 years we’ve been living in the Greater Daglan Area.

A sign of spring: On a jolly note, the other day Jan and I noticed that snowdrops had started pushing up through the ground, and flowering. The French cleverly call the flowers perce-neige, because they are able to “pierce” a thin layer of snow. But we’re not having any snow these days, so I guess the snowdrops are having an easy time of it. Here’s one of the plants in bloom, with other flowers starting to push up as well:

A sure sign that winter is slowly coming to an end.
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Water polo, anyone?

This can be a rainy time of year in the Greater Daglan Area, and the early months of 2021 are proving to be no exception. It seems we get rain just about every day — ranging from sprinkles to out-and-out downpours. And of course all the water is adding up.

This morning, on a drive to Gourdon for some shopping, Jan and I saw virtually every field covered in water, resembling small lakes instead of pastures. And every river, creek, stream, and ditch we passed was bursting with flowing water.

Here’s a look at the soccer field (okay, football pitch) at one end of our village; you may be able to see the goal posts on the right-hand side of the photo:

Welcome to Soccer Lake.

The river that runs past Daglan is the Céou, a tributary of the mighty Dordogne River. Normally it’s quite placid, and in the heat of summer can be virtually dry. Here it is at about noon today, gushing along:

That’s a lot of fast-moving water.

I’m almost certain that no one will be venturing out to the picnic bench you can see at the right-hand side of the photo. At least not for a while.

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Our (brief) winter wonderland

When our friend Rosemary came to our house this morning to exercise with Jan, she travelled by dog sled. This afternoon, I’ve made a booking to have snow tires put on my car. And I think lunch will be late today, because Jan is so busy with her 8-foot-tall snowman.

Okay, I’m kidding.

But we did get a smattering of snow overnight, and some of it actually stuck. I think this is the first “measurable” snowfall since the winter of 2011-12. In any case, here are just a couple of photos — “snow-tos,” if you will — to provide the evidence.

I’ll begin with a photo showing the thin layer of snow on the village church’s roof and bell tower:

The view from our front door.

And here’s a look into the back yard of one of our neighbours:

Looking over a snow-sprinkled hedge of ivy.

I’m pretty certain this winter wonderland won’t last long. Already, in late morning as I write this, the snow on the road has melted away. And with the temperature this afternoon skyrocketing to 2 degrees Celsius (almost 36 degrees American), I think we can say goodbye to the white stuff, at least for now.

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Starting the new year with seafood

This is the time of year when seafood takes prominence in the cuisines of many nations — including of course France, where crates of oysters wind up in shops all over the place and fish is often featured as the centre of a meal. And so it was at our house today, as Jan and I had a wonderful New Year’s Day lunch prepared for us by the chef at O Moulin, in Carsac.

Jan picked up the two-course meal yesterday, and it rested in the refrigerator until it was time for some easy preparation today — mostly involving heating up the main course, and arranging everything on plates.

So with no further ado, here we go. We began with what the menu described as Bavarois de carotte, rosace de Coquilles St Jacques et vinaigrette coriandre, at 13 euros a plate. A bavarois is a creamy mousse made with gelatin, often served as a dessert. In this case, our entrée was a heavenly smooth concoction of carrot, with thin slices of raw scallops arranged on top. Everything about it was a delight, to the point that Jan said she could have eaten four of them. Here’s my plate:

Even the vinaigrette was perfect.

For our main course, we chose the Gambas façon Thai, sauce homardine et lait de coco, legumes croquants, at 18 euros. Each of us had six large shrimp, deliciously tender, in a lobster and coconut milk sauce, sitting atop a bed of super-finely julienned carrots and zucchini, which were indeed crunchy. Here’s my plate:

A wonderful mix of flavours, and colours.

Along the way, we polished off a bottle of Veuve Clicquot champagne, and then decided to hold off on our dessert — a collection of macarons from Fauchon of Paris, which had been ordered for us by daughter Anne, as a Christmas treat.

And to all the readers of Radio Free Daglan, may your new year be filled with good food, good friendships, and good health. Here’s to 2021!

And now I think I’ll have my macarons.

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Yet another Christmas (dining) tradition

People always talk about their traditions at the holiday season, as if they were set in stone. What I’ve discovered over the years is that traditions change.

During our working years in Toronto, for instance, our Christmas Eve dinner was traditionally a bouillabaisse, made with (among other things) fresh fish and seafood from the St. Lawrence Market, and bottled clam juice. Now that we’re retired in France, our main meal of the day is lunch rather than dinner, and no one seems to have heard of clam juice.

So yesterday, for Christmas Eve lunch, we had seared foie gras — cooked by yours truly, and accompanied by two kinds of chutney (of which the dark cherry version was the best).

And then today, for Christmas lunch, we had a take-out meal — because restaurants in France have been closed, to try to stem the tide of this terrible pandemic. But our choice was excellent, because the take-out meal was from O Moulin in Carsac. For the holidays, it’s offering quite a varied menu, with lots of choice, from appetizers to four-course meals. In our case, we picked up the food on Thursday, before driving on to Sarlat to visit a large supermarket. When we arrived at home, the food went into our downstairs refrigerator.

For today’s lunch, Jan and I chose to begin with the foie gras poêle with a verjus and raisin sauce. The entrée came already cooked, so we just had to re-heat the sauce in a pan, and re-heat the foie in the oven. (If you’re not familiar with it, verjus is the juice of green grapes, and is used often in French cooking in place of vinegar.) So the sauce was sweet and fruity, and the foie itself was tender and delicious. Here’s my plate:

Tender and sweet foie.

Our main course was filet mignon of veal with black truffles, accompanied by sautéed cèpes and a compression of potatoes. Again, it was just a matter of re-heating the dish in our oven. We were each offered three pieces of the veal, but decided to eat only two for lunch, saving one piece for tomorrow’s breakfast, perhaps to enjoy with a fried egg. Everything about the dish (and especially the sauce) was rich, so Jan decided to skip the cheese course that followed. Here’s my veal dish:

As rich as can be.

The cheese course looks tiny, but was so rich that it was more than enough. It was a small glass jar of Rocamadour (a local goat’s cheese) and mascarpone, sitting on a bed of chopped black truffles. For this dish, we heated the glass jar in a water bath in the oven, and I spread the cheese-and-truffle mixture over crackers. Superb!

A small portion of cheese — but just enough.

For our dessert, we went with a homemade dish, because O Moulin’s only sweet offerings were various versions of bûche de Noël, or Yule logs, which gluten-allergic Jan cannot eat. Instead, she made a delicious tiramisu for us, using gluten-free panettone as a base. Although she used a raspberry eau-de-vie in the mixture, the predominant taste was orange, because the panettone was loaded with citrus. Here’s my serving:

The base is gluten-free panettone.

All in all, this may well have been the start of a new Christmas tradition. Among other things, the crackling logs in our fireplace, and the chilled bottle of Veuve Clicquot alongside our plates, contributed a lot to our dining pleasure. And now … to think ahead to our New Year’s Eve lunch.

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Another fine-dining meal, chez nous

A couple of weekends ago, we had an odd experience with the restaurant that’s become our favourite for fine dining and that’s within easy driving distance, O Moulin in Carsac. We had checked out its take-out menu online, and liked the look of it. So on a Wednesday evening Jan telephoned the restaurant and left a message on voicemail for a Sunday pick-up.

There was no reply, so she phoned again on Thursday, and reached the chef directly. He reported that he had received our message, and was very sorry, but they were completely booked. But it’s takeout! How could they be fully booked?

The answer, I suppose, is that the chef had ordered a certain number of ingredients, and couldn’t add more. Oh well — I roasted a leg of lamb instead.

This past Sunday, however, we struck take-out gold, and were just delighted with what we received — three courses for just 23 euros per person. Here’s a look at our meal, starting with the entrée.

On O Moulin’s online menu, this was called “Tataki de truite de Borrèze, crémeux de choux fleur au wasabi.” Or, as you might call it, “Tataki of Borrèze trout, with a cauliflower cream flavoured with wasabi.” This was delicious, the fish incredibly moist and delicate. Here’s my serving:

Delicate and delicious.

To explain a bit, tataki is a Japanese word for a style of cooking, in which fish (salmon, for instance) is cooked at very high heat for a very short time, so that the result is a delicate dish that seems to be either poached very briefly, or marinated (like a ceviche). The interior of the fish is, basically, raw. One salmon tataki recipe I consulted said to plunge pieces of salmon into boiling water for just one minute (!), and then to cool them in ice water.

And in case you were wondering, Borrèze refers to a small river of the same name that flows through the village of (you guessed it) Borrèze, not far from Daglan.

Next came our plat principal — a braised quail, cooked “in the spirit of a tajine,” with semoule (a grain product, that I would describe as couscous) and vegetables flavoured like a North African dish. Again, it was just delicious.

Tastes of North Africa.

The final touch was a mousse of mango, served on a sablé breton (a crisp, thick cookie that seemed to me as if it were flavoured with orange); on top were shavings of fresh mango as well as whipped cream. Here is my dish:

A sweet, fresh dessert.

To us, it seems remarkable that we had all this enjoyment for just 23 euros each. And now we’re thinking that we’ll be ordering the O Moulin take-out menu for our Christmas Day lunch.

A truffle follow-up. Just recently, I wrote about a rather large black truffle that Jan bought (for 75 euros) at Daglan’s weekly truffle market on Sunday. Afterwards, she cut the black beauty into four parts, wrapped three of them in aluminum foil and put them in the freezer, and shaved the remaining truffle to sprinkle over and through a dish she made with pasta and sausage. Here’s how it turned out:

Black truffle shavings decorate the dish.
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Yesterday (Sunday) marked the 2020 start-up for Daglan’s market of the famous winter truffles (the Périgord black truffles) and with a bit of luck, we managed to score big-time.

Our story begins not long after 10 a.m., when Jan headed off to O Moulin, the restaurant in Carsac that I’ve praised in Radio Free Daglan many times; she was picking up the lunch items we had ordered. (Lunch was so good I will devote another blog posting to it, as soon as I can.)

In any case, the return trip brought her back to our village not long after 11 a.m., and she immediately went up to the courtyard of Daglan’s elementary school, where the truffle market takes place. As she later reported, there was still a good crowd of people standing around — but just one unsold truffle. And so she bought it — for a whopping 75 euros!

And here it is on our kitchen counter, placed next to a tangerine to give you some idea of its monster size:

Perhaps the largest truffle we’ve ever bought.

And what do we do with these babies? Well, Jan will grate some of the truffle and mix it into softened butter, to be whipped into mashed potatoes or placed on green vegetables. But tomorrow, we’re thinking of shaving some of the truffle over pasta. Yum!

Meanwhile, activity at Daglan’s weekly Sunday market seems to have picked up a little as we approach the holidays. Yesterday at about noon, there was still a good crowd standing around the wine stall, and there was good activity at the stalls selling oysters, and vegetables, and roast chickens. Here’s a look:

A busy spot on Sundays.

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Our best tree yet

On Wednesday, which was a fairly miserable grey day, the village workers put up Daglan’s Christmas tree. Yesterday, which was equally wet and miserable, the workers decorated the tree. And this morning — which was beautifully sunny and bright — I was able to photograph it.

For two reasons, Jan and I think it’s the best Christmas tree our village has erected since we moved here in 2010. First, the tree itself is nicely balanced, tall, and full, as good Christmas trees should be. And second, it’s been re-located to what seems like a much more sensible spot.

To remind you how previous trees were located, here’s a look at the tree of 2016 — placed in one of the large open areas of the village’s main square, the Place de la Liberté:

The village tree of four years ago.

It was a fairly good Christmas tree, but its placement meant that it had no obvious support (meaning that it would be hard to withstand strong winds) and it somewhat blocked the vehicles trying to park in the square.

And now here is our 2020 tree, placed in the base of the water fountain that stands at the centre-front of the square:

Now, isn’t this a better location? And the tree itself is lovely.

With the tree in place, nearly all of the village’s Christmas decorations have been installed, including the twinkling lights on some of our trees, and the signs hanging from lamp posts. Because of the pandemic, this won’t be a Christmas like those in recent years, but it still should be a lovely one.

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A sweet memory, and a bittersweet day

About 10 years ago (September 4, 2010), not much more than a month after Jan and I moved to Daglan permanently, we witnessed (at a distance) a wedding that took place in the village church near our house. My post that day was called “Four kisses and a wedding,” and I used it partly to explain the French tradition of the bisou, the “air kiss” or “cheek kiss,” used to greet family and close friends.

Well, surprise surprise! Today I received a sweet comment from a young woman named Emmanuelle. In part, she wrote: “How funny, I just came across your lovely blog. I’m the bride and you’ll be pleased to know we’re still happily married 10 years and 3 boys later!”

Of course Jan and I are more than pleased, and were delighted to hear from her. As it happens, since that wedding a decade ago, Jan and I became integrated into Daglan life, and became friends not only with Emmanuelle’s mother but also her grandmother and grandfather. Jan became particularly close to them, and Mme. Pasquet referred to my wife as la marcheuse canadienne, because Jan (a Canadian citizen) so often walked through the village and surrounding hills for exercise.

A couple of years ago, I described the village’s Bastille Day ceremony and included this information about Emmanuelle’s grandfather, Jacques:

The ceremony included the usual features — the speech by our Mayor, the group singing of la Marseillaise — but the highlight was the presentation of the Legion of Honour to a notable villager, Jacques Pasquet.

Before making the award,  retired General Raymond Wey. another notable villager and a municipal Conseiller, outlined M. Pasquet’s dedicated service, both in and out of the armed forces. The Legion of Honour is the highest French order of merit, and was begun in 1802 by Napoleon Bonaparte.

— Radio Free Daglan, July 19, 2018

Sadly, since then, both Mme. and M. Pasquet have passed away. But Jan and I remember them fondly. And now we have a special sweet memory of their granddaughter, the bride, shown here on her wedding day:

A bride prepares to be greeted
The bride awaits a bisou.

A bittersweet day: Jan and I have been particularly faithful at attending the November 11 ceremony to mark Armistice Day, and so it was sad to know that the public ceremony would be significantly scaled back this year, because of the Covid pandemic. We did mark the occasion with two minutes of silence at 11 a.m., in our home.

Soon after that, however, I drove out of our quartier on my daily run to les poubelles, the public garbage and recycling bins, and saw that there was indeed a small ceremony taking place at the village’s war memorial. Here’s a look:

Today’s small ceremony, from a distance.

And here’s a closer look, which shows that the ceremony included only a few village officials, who had raised the French flag and set out flowers:

Flags, flowers, and a small group of officials.

Although he is hidden in the photo, our Mayor, Pascal Dussol, was on hand, and as I passed by, I saw him reading from the prescribed text on le jour armistice. Fittingly, the weather was quite grey in the morning — cool and misty. But as the day has progressed, it’s become sunny and bright — a welcome relief on any day during our national lockdown.

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Our mini-Halloween, and two kinds of lunch

Halloween during a pandemic? How would that work? We weren’t sure, but I figured that at least some kids would be out on Saturday night, looking for treats. So Jan went ahead and bought several bags of candy.

Then France’s President announced a nationwide lockdown, and we figured that Halloween would be even more quiet than normal — to the point that our best bet, we figured, would be to take the candies to the local school and have the teachers hand out the treats to their classes.

As it happened, on Saturday afternoon we went to the village of Cénac for a bit of shopping, and Jan bumped into a neighbour — a young mother — who said that kids would indeed be going from house to house that evening. Her suggestion: Put the candies down at street level, so the kids wouldn’t have to come to the door.

Seemed smart enough, so that’s what we did. And here’s how it looked, including my pretend Jack-o-lantern, made out of a butternut squash:

All set for the kids in costume.

So, what was the outcome? Well, not much. At about 7 p.m., a small group of children in costume did indeed show up, and collected some candies. Funnily enough, they were led by the young mother who had suggested to Jan that we should put our candies at the bottom of the stairs. And that was that — no other children showed up. And so, in the end, we will take the remaining candies (and there are a lot) to the school.

Two (very) different lunches. This past week, I had two medical appointments in Toulouse — one on Tuesday, and one on Wednesday. Because of differences in timing, we wound up having two very different kinds of lunches. Here’s a brief report:

On the Tuesday, my appointment was finished just after 1 p.m., so we had time for a good lunch at Chez Jeannot, the excellent seafood restaurant that I praised quite fulsomely in a posting of June 18. Again, we were with our friends Richard and Rosemary (it was Richard who gamely did all the driving), and once again all four of us were very pleased with the restaurant — the ambience, the service, and of course the food.

In this posting, I’ll show just a few photos — starting with an overall look at Chez Jeannot from the front. On the left is the seafood shop, and on the right is the restaurant.

The view from the street.

We entered the seafood shop (which connects directly to the restaurant), where the shop’s super-keen salesman wanted to be in the photo I was taking of the goodies on offer. And here he is, with some of his wares:

Our man in the shop.

To accompany our meals, we began with a kir, and then a bottle of the Chablis that was the daily special. For my main course, I had the grilled gambas that Jan and Rosemary had ordered on our first trip in June, while this time the two women had langoustines, and Richard ordered a grilled whole fish as his main. Here’s a photo of the langoustines:

An icy tray of langoustines.

For details on the restaurant, do check my blog posting of June 18. Once our pandemic lockdown ends, this is a place you’ll want to try, if you’re in the Toulouse area and if you like seafood as much as we do.

And now for something completely different: For the lunch on Wednesday, the timing was such that we had to eat fairly quickly between arriving in Toulouse and seeing my doctor. So we ordered from the hospital café, and had a light lunch that looked like this:

A lunch of sandwiches and salads.

To give the café credit, the food was pretty good. But that’s not the kind of meal we normally would drive for two hours to order. Ah well.

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