Thursday 30 August 2012

Tartelette test

On Monday American friends Ken and Walt plus their lovely dog Callie came for lunch. Both of them write a blog and you can find Ken's blog here. Walt's blog is called Another American in France. They are good cooks and interested in food so in a foolhardy fashion we decided use a recipe for rhubarb tart which we'd never tried before and serve it as their dessert. We found the recipe on a site called La Tartine Gourmande. It's run by a French woman, originally from northeastern France, but now living in Boston. She has a whole range of recipes including  gluten-free.

It was all as a result of our neighbour, Alexandra having come round a few days before  with a delicious home-made mirabelle and rubarb flan. The mirabelles had come from her orchard but we knew she didn't grow rhubarb as she doesn't have a potager.  She said that the LeClerc supermarket in Loches had it; so, as we both love rhubarb, we did our weekly shopping there hoping they would still have some. They did, and we came home with 1kg of lovley rhubarb.

tarte a la rhubarbe gingembrée et vanillée
We didn't follow the recipe exactly. It is actually for 4 tartelettes which are dainty. We made one large tart, which is more rustic. Also we didn't peel the stalks of rhubarb--they were tender enough, nor did we finish with a powdering confectioner's sugar. For the rest we pretty much followed the instructions and the baking time was spot on. We served the tart with very lightly sugared creme fraiche (30% fat).

The end result looked and tasted good. Well, Niall and I thought so, and Ken and Walt are alive to tell the tale :-).

Here's the recipe [on the website there's also a version in French which uses metric measurements]:
 Rhubarb Tartlets with Ginger and Vanilla
(For 4 tartlets rectangular 8 x 4″)
You need:
  • 10.5 oz puff pastry
  • 1 lb + 2 oz rhubarb
  • 2 oz fine cane sugar
  • 1 vanilla bean, seeds removed
  • 2 inch ginger root, peeled and grated extremely thinly
  • 3/4 cup almond powder
  • 3.5 Tbsp brown raw granulated sugar + 2 Tbsp to sprinkle over
  • Confectioner’s sugar
  • Peel the rhubarb and cut it in 2.5 ” long sticks.
  • Place them in a colander placed over a bowl and sprinkle with 1/2 cup fine sugar. Let rest for 1 hour so that the rhubarb looses its water.
  • In the meantime, roll your puff pastry thinly and divide in four 8 x 4″ rectangulars, and place them on a baking sheet.
  • Preheat your oven at 420 F.
  • Make small holes with a fork leaving a 1/2 inch border. Cover with a plastic film and place in the fridge.
  • Mix together the almond powder with 4 Tbsp raw brown sugar, the vanilla seeds and the ginger. Crumble.
  • Take the dough out of the fridge and top with the almond crumble, leaving the border intact.
  • Arrange the rhubarb sticks on top and sprinkle with additional 1/2 Tbsp on each tartlet.
  • Cook for about 20 min. Remove and sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar if desired.

We shall certainly be trying more recipes from La Tartine Gourmande! However, tomorrow the other half of the rhubarb is going into a rhubarb and ginger sour-dough cake.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Demons & Angels

Last weekend we had a bit of a nose around the river Cher area to the east of Chenonceau. One of the buildings we thought we'd have a look at was the church of Saint-Aginan-sur-Cher. Blog friends of ours, Ken and Walt live close by and Walt had written about the church having frescos and that triggered our interest.

Romanesque bell tower, Saint-Aignan Church
In addition, last weekend it was exremely hot -- we were in the throes of a canicule, or heatwave, and churches are nice and cool and therefore a good place to visit. The main style of the church at Saint-Aignan is Romanesque, which you can clearly see in the bell tower, with its rounded arches. A plaque outside the church informs visitors that the church has around 250 11th and 12th century capitals depicting scenes from the Old and New Testament as well as a crypt with frescos from the 11th to 15th centuries. Both the numerous capitals and the crypt are superb and well worth seeing. However, our interest was drawn by a side chapel.

When we walked in we noticed there was a lovely draft running through the church. The south transept door was open to create the breeze.  Right next to it was a chapel which received barely a mention anywhere. It was covered with dark jewel-coloured paintings on the vaulted ceilings and walls. The paintings looked to be late 14th/early 15th century which pretty much ties in with the style of the vaulting. Among the most interesting were two paintings depicting demons and angels and the struggle for souls. Both radiated a feeling of life and energy.

Archangel Michael attacking a demon while souls cling to his legs
In one, the Archangel Michael, in a full suit of late 14th century armour, and equipped with a sword and shield, battles with a bear-like devil who is trying to run off with a soul which is desperately clinging onto one of the Archangel's legs. A second soul clings to his other leg. The Archangel Michael is ramming his sword down between the devil's eyes.

One of the Archangel Michael's functions was to protect the souls of the newly dead from the devil. His other duty was to weigh up the souls at the Last Judgement, which is shown in the other painting.
souls being weighed
The souls are being weighed in a golden set of scales. Here the Archangel Michael is dressed in robes, not armour. A devil is trying very hard to steal one of the souls out of one of the pans. You can just make out that the soul is hanging on the chains of the scales for dear life. The demon is being fended off by the Archangel using a long thin poker.

In both, as was normal for the times, the souls are depicted as small naked child-like figures.

The collegiate church of Saint-Aignan certainly did not disappoint, even though it left us with cricks in our respective necks! Apologies for the quality of the photos, but the paintings are fairly dark and not that easy to photograph. As always if you click on the photographs you can enlarge them to see more detail.

Monday 20 August 2012

Charnizay's big weekend

For several weeks now poster boards have been adorning lamposts in a radius of about 30 to 40 km round Charnizay, proudly announcing  'Le 17e fete de l'Enduro' and 'Tri Yann' in concert.
poster in Chatillon-sur-Indre
The 'Ronde des Palets', named after the 'Palet de Gargantua' [dolmen] in our commune, is an annually returning endurance event for off-road [scramble] motorbikes. It is always held on a Friday/Saturday around the middle of August.

This year it was held on Friday and Saturday. There is always an evening event on the Friday, but the main attraction is the endurance challenge on Saturday. From 10:00 to 19:00 the off-road bikes roar around a challenging 50km course, which is set out in the fields and woods around Charnizay; it changes every year. If you want a close-up of the terrain they have to conquer have a look at the video footage on the official website here. It is not for the fainthearted!
Ronde des Palets 2011: you can just see the quarry they had to tackle beside the road to Loches**
Sitting outside on Friday night at the start of the 'canicule' [heatwave] we saw the sweeping headlights raking the other side of the valley and heard the roar of the bikes taking part. The noise came across clearly in the still air.

On Saturday we were out most of the day having a look at some historical sights. With the temperature hitting 40C this wasn't as mad as it sounds as driving was a positive pleasure with air conditioning in the car. We don't have it in the house as it's not worth it for the few very hot days we get each year. We spared a thought for the competitors in the bike race encased in their leathers, safety padding and helmets. As we came home we could see that they were putting the finishing touches to the stage they'd built on the football pitch for the evening's gig.

At nine pm it was still stinkingly hot, but we settled down outside on the terrace with a chilled bottle of sparking Touraine and got ready to enjoy the gig which was about to unfold. 'Tri Yann' [Breton for three Johns] are a Celtic/Breton folk-rock band from Nantes, Brittany. They are quite well-known in France and about a week or two earlier the TV station France 3 had shown a live concert recorded at Lorient last year. They sing in French and Breton. The best way to describe them is as a mix of: Fairport Convention, Runrig and Seth Lakeman, with the odd whiff of Jethro Tull.
terrace at 10pm: clear evening sky, no wind and hot!
There wasn't a breath of wind so we were able to hear everything perfectly. The band played an excellent two hr set. It isn't often that you can sit outside your own house and listen to a good live gig!

** as always you can click on the photos to enlarge them.

Friday 17 August 2012

A ball, books and bats

Last weekend we had a small invasion --their words-- not ours! Friends, with their three children, came to visit on their way home from a holiday in Poitou-Charente. They live in the Netherlands. It was lovely to find that we were all roughly in the same place at the same time and could catch up, as it had been far too long since we had last seen them.

In the 1990's K and Antoinette worked at the same International School. Since then we have all moved about a bit: we to Maastricht and UK; K & M to Italy and now back to NL. K is British and M is Dutch and the children all speak English, Dutch and Italian--a pleasing international mix!
the ball did not survive the visit!
While adults caught up with news of mutual friends the kids rambled around, became acquianted with Katinka--always keen to be the centre of attention-- and made good use of the ball they'd brought. We don't have items such as badminton sets and footballs. We did once have a boules set, but much rootling in the barn prior to thier arrival left us empty handed. No idea what's happened to it.

It was quite hot last Saturday, so after lunch everyone was quite soporific. Ball games slowed down.  Not long after, while chatting to the lad, Niall found out that he really liked "Horrible Histories". It only took a mention of the fact that we have 5 or 6 of these books [revolting historical facts, all accurate written for children] to cause a move into the house and the question 'where please?' Once located they were carried outside and shared out between all three kids. It went quiet .... except for the lad who treated his sisters and the rest of us to some excellent extracts of the particular "Horrible History" he was reading. The kids had also found the hammock chair at the front of the house so they, and the books, to-ed and fro-ed between the terrace and the hammock.

kids reading even while waiting for adults to get organised for group photo
We fired up the BBQ as dinner time approached and, thankfully, it did what is was supposed to do: burn well. A production line of sausages and hamburgers were nicely charred on the outside and cooked inside without turning into old shoe-leather. Slowly it got dark and we moved round to the front of the house.

During the day the kids had asked about the wildlife and we'd mentioned that amongst other things we have pipestrelle bats [3 or 4] using the shutters at the front of the house as summer roosts -- they squeeze themselves between the wall of the house and the shutter.

They wanted to see our bats fly out at dusk as one of their memories of living in Rome had been the bats swooping through the huge double windows of their palazzo apartment, flitting round the living room and zooming out again. So from about 21:00 we sat at the front waiting; soon the pipestrelles, which are truly tiny, emerged and obligingly swooped round the house in their regular search for insects.

It was a lovely day. Sometimes simple things work just fine: a ball - sadly deceased by the end of the day! - some books and some bats.

Friday 10 August 2012

Monsters at St Savin

Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe is justly famous for its frescos which we've written about before here. Certainly the first time we visited in March 2011 we had eyes only for the frescos which had just undergone a meticulous restoration/conservation. However, there are other gems which can easily be over-looked as the frescos are so superb.

polychrome capital: monsters having their feet eaten
Last week we were there with Antoinette's friend Andrea. In addition to looking at the frescos --Noah's Ark is a favourite-- we pottered around some of the nooks and crannies of the former abbey church and spotted some lovely monsters and an angel as well!

more monster feet being eaten by smaller monsters
We found these 11th century monsters lurking at the top of three of the pillars which support the apsidal choir. Although very similar, each is slightly different in its detail. All show monsters being consumed, creating a continuum which reflects the cycle of life. Two of the capitals show the legs of the large monsters being eaten by smaller ones and the third shows the monsters eating their own tails. 

tail-eating monsters
The angel, who perhaps looks slightly grumpy, was found when we tipped up some choir stall seats which had been placed in the southern transept. Often when you tip these seats up they have these little ledges. They were there so that you could rest your bottom during long periods of the service when you had to stand. They're called 'misericords'  -- taken from the Latin word for pity.

grumpy angel [prob 17th cent]
English cathedrals and medieval churches often have superb misericords carved during the middle ages; Beverly Minster in Yorkshire has fabulous examples. Frequently they depict humorous scenes as an 'in joke' for the clergy, as the misericords were never seen by members of the congregation.

Tuesday 7 August 2012

Out and about

'Tis the season for visits and catching up with good friends, which is why we haven't been posting quite as frequently as we normally do.

Angles sur L' Anglin
Late last week we picked up Andrea, a good friend of Antoinette's at the TGV station near Tours. Currently she lives and works as the head of an international primary in the Netherlands and paid us a flying visit on her way to Nice.

We headed straight off to do a spot of wine tasting at Chateau Gaudrelle. Simon & Susan have written about this Vouvray producer a number of times before. We had a little look in the cellars and then proceeded to the serious stuff--trying their still and sparkling wines. We found them very tasty and a number of bottles were purchased for consumption on the terrace during Andrea's visit.
castle ruins, Angles sur L'Anglin
As it was only a brief visit, we wanted Andrea to get as much of a flavour of the area as possible. So after Vouvray we drove along the Loire to Amboise before heading home via Montpoupon and Loches.
upper village, view from the bridge at Angles
The next day we showed Andrea some of the sights to the south of us, notably the frescos at St Savin, which we have written about before. On our way there we visited the village of Angles sur L'Anglin, which proudly holds the title of being one of the prettiest in France. 
watermill at Angles sur L'Anglin
It was lovely to see Andrea again, and as always, when you have friends to stay, much fat was chewed: happily out on the terrace as the weather behaved! Much fun was also had and, most importantly, cats were spoilt! Andrea is very fond of furries and this was quickly discovered.

This Saturday we are looking forward to seeing other friends who will be spending the day with us en-route back home after a holiday in Poitou-Charente region.

C'est aout; tout le monde est en vacances!