The French Farmhouse Report for 1/22/20

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

 Two consecutive weekends of storms with freezing rain as the headliner and a couple of days of pretty cold weather kind of took the stuffings out of me. At least last year’s polar vortex event featured clear skies and snow that a person and a dog could walk on without crampons.

Liberal use of a paw- and grass-friendly ice melter kept the back step cleared and a path open to a patch where Oakley could tend to those most personal forms of business. Otherwise, we stayed inside. Oakley played with his holiday puzzles and napped. I read, napped, and succumbed to the lure of the TV.

As I flipped around, I saw a teaser for a show featuring unusual Chicago area restaurants, such as one near the Northwestern University campus that specializes in grilled cheese sandwiches. They certainly had my undivided attention.

After some five minutes of ads, the show started. Interview with the chef/owner, shots of the funky/cozy/brick walled interior with hand-lettered chalk board menus. Tour complete, it was down to business in the kitchen. Texas toast slices (the ones at least double the thickness of a regular slice of bread, usually involved in making diner-style French toast) were brushed with what may or may not have been melted butter, topped with some sort of cheese, then passed through a broiler like the ones in chain burger joints for a preliminary browning and melting.

Then came a filling of delicacies such as French fries or macaroni and cheese before the two slices were assembled into a sandwich and given a final browning in a buttered frying pan.

Now, the Mystery She knows that I have consumed my fair share and someone else’s of carbs and fats, especially back in the day when I may or may not have ingested adult beverages and more so when my hormones dragged me to the store and demanded potato chips. But this was so totally over the top that it didn’t even look good. To me, anyway.

Maybe it’s because I’ve developed discernment as I’ve matured; maybe it’s because of the lessons learned during my trip to France and subsequent readings about their cultural attitudes towards food. In any event, I would take a pass on it, thank you. OK, maybe I would split it with someone, but it’s not something I’d order on my own.

This over the top type of grilled cheese wouldn’t fly in France, except as a novelty, maybe.  A diner would get a much smaller sandwich consisting of two conventionally-sized slices of bread with cheese or a cheese sauce and some ham, turkey, or chicken in the middle. That would be baked for about 15 minutes, then perhaps served with a fried egg on top. There would be a small side salad. (Fries are usually served with steak.)  And that would be it. Except for some fruit for dessert. And don’t forget a small cup of coffee or tea to conclude the meal.

My own hankerings for grilled cheese get satisfied here at home with two slices of whole wheat bread, an unprocessed cheese in the middle, and the twist courtesy of one of my friends: instead of buttering the outside, spread with mayonnaise and sprinkle Parmesan  cheese for a crunchy brown crust. I won’t say it’s life changing, but I will say it makes the next fifteen or so minutes pretty tolerable, indeed.

If I have an urge while I’m out, I stop at Belladonna, the local point of refuge for artists, Bohemians, and people who appreciate the art of really good food, coffee, and tea. One of the grilled cheese paninis with a cup of the homemade soup always elevates the day.

It’s just enough, and a little more (I usually take half home for dinner), and that’s just right for me.

 

 

French Farmhouse Project Report for 1/12/20

architecture clouds daylight driveway
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Well, this last week was not as French as I had hoped would be. We no sooner resolved the issue with my computer when my car hesitated and stalled on acceleration, plus it was making a weird rattling noise.  The dealer, the import mechanic here in town, and Google are at odds with each other regarding the issue. Whatever is going on involves the bearings, but the dispute was over which set and the cause of the hesitating.

In related news, the hunt for the best Prius at the best price is under way.

On the French living front, I made a very French dinner last week: blanquette de poulet with roasted potatoes. It provided an antidote to the car-related chaos as well as the cold weather. The recipe for the blanquette is Mimi Thorisson’s from her book A Kitchen in France. The potatoes are in the book, but not on the website for some reason.

While it is technically a recipe for blanquette de veau, we just aren’t into veal around here. I used chicken legs (remove the skin or it will make a greasy mess). This would probably work well with turkey, too.

Yes, it is rich (I used sour cream, not creme fraiche, and it worked perfectly well). Yes, it is time consuming. Yes, there are a lot of ingredients. But it provided a counterbalance to the stress of the day. And it made the house smell great.

Hubby commented that he felt like he was eating in a high end French restaurant. Not long after that, he dozed off in his chair.

I smiled, knowing my job for the day was done.

The Holiday Report, New Year’s Wishes, and Announcements for 2020

building car clouds farmhouse
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Happy New Year, Gentle Readers! On behalf of Hubby, Oakley, and myself, we wish you all the best.

This year’s greeting was delayed due to technical difficulties. On New Year’s morning, I turned on my laptop, and started going through my emails when it suddenly froze up for no discernible reason. Reboot. Reboot. And nothing. As soon as I finished with the dry heaves, we made  a trip to the Apple store for diagnostics.  A dead hard drive.

Luckily, Hubby’s sangfroid based in 35 plus years of engineering allowed him to get it tended to pretty quickly. And get a can of ginger ale down me while running through the troubleshooting protocol. He replaced the hard drive, downloaded the latest and greatest operating system, and had me back in business by yesterday morning. The only delay was waiting for the new drive that he’d ordered.

Otherwise, we had a pretty enjoyable season: good visits with my family; the usual excesses; and watching “It’s a Wonderful Life” on Christmas Eve.

And now with the turning of the wheel of the year comes some changes and projects:

  • Santa brought me a camera for Christmas. I’m excited to share photos of my corner of the world with you this year as well as food pics.
  • Expect more info and news on fighting hunger this year. I may not have the words to express the disgust I feel over vulnerable neighbors taking the brunt of greed, but I will certainly use the ones I have to do what I can on their behalf.
  • Expect a return to news and views on sustainability practices.
  • Of course you’ll get cute pictures of Oakley.
  • And now for the big one…..:

It is my pleasure to announce The French Farmhouse Project.

Once a week or so, I’ll be blogging about my efforts to live as closely as possible to how I would if I physically lived in France.  I will also provide resources and references.

When I was much younger, I wanted to spend a semester in France, but it wasn’t meant to be. In 2006, I took a cooking class through a local community college that involved a stay at a chateau near Lyon. We spent a week immersed in life, food, and culture. Parts of  my heart and soul never quite made it back. While I may not be in a position to make a return visit at this time, I can make some changes here at home to reflect lessons learned while I was there.

So…stay tuned.

 

 

 

In Praise of Normal Days

a brown barn close to the river under cloudy skies and snow covered grounds in winter
Photo by Tobias Bjørkli on Pexels.com

Forgive my unintended sabbatical, Gentle Readers. Hubby, Oakley, and I have been enjoying an extended stretch of normal days. You know the kind, the ones that unfold according to routine where you get up, do your work, walk Oakley, watch maybe a bit too much TV (such as impeachment hearings), perhaps lunch with a friend.

The good kind of normal, like really high end vanilla ice cream, the slightly off white with the seeds speckling it. On its own, it’s great, but it’s able to provide a backdrop for hot fudge or strawberries if those are available as well as supporting a swirl of whipped cream.

We give thanks for the basics right now be they vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry.  We have the pantry stocked for the winter with human and canine food. No outstanding bills loom over us; no human or canine health crises or passages to the great beyond disturb our peace. The vehicles declared their suicide pact null and void. None of them have acted up since my VW’s last trip to the dealer’s just after Labor Day.

Outdoors, the garden was prepped for next spring with layers of cardboard and mulch. One of my friends who is an experienced, wise gardener suggested that as a last ditch effort to rid the bed of the rogue mesclun mix and seeds in the compost that hadn’t cooked properly. Just poke holes with a spade, add the plants, and voila, instant garden this May.

Indoors, I’ve been decluttering. How two people and a total of two dogs can crap up a house like this is beyond me. Not purging the knickknacks and books so much as the piles of junk like boxes that we didn’t know what to do with, so we put them in the dining room until we could figure out the best course of action. Then they decided to use it as a breeding ground. I passed those on to a couple of friends who have an Etsy shop. Or the bags of hoarded inanities and old clothes that I piled into my car for their ride  to a donation center. I was a little surprised that I didn’t get a flyer with information about opening my own Goodwill franchise.

We have opened some space. What it will be filled with remains to be seen, but we welcome the good and normal.

 

 

The Automotive Report for 9/16/19

blue sedan
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We started shopping for a new car Labor Day weekend. We have our eye on a sea glass pearl (light teal) Prius with all wheel drive. I didn’t go for a test drive, but I did sit in one, and it felt as if she was giving me a little hug.

We are overdue for one, and wanted to make an informed, rational decision unlike other car purchases we’ve made in the past. Like when my Chevette dropped pieces of the engine while I was driving. Or when the Pulsar’s timing belt broke, again while I was driving. Or mice eating the Thunderbird’s electrical system. There was the day when I closed the door on the Sentra and a chunk the size of my hand sheared off and turned to dust when it hit the ground. And who can forget the front end of the Crown Vic getting obliterated by the deer who ran in front of it, the turned around and ran in front of it again?

Between the two of us, we have three old vehicles. Just old. Not at an age where they could be considered vintage. Just…old.

However, they are paid for.  Neither of us like going into debt, so we pay cash when we can. That’s why we own a ’95 Corolla that  Hubby inherited from his mother. It could likely survive an episode of “Game of Thrones.”

A ’93 Ford F-150 that Hubby uses for hauling wood and other materials. It has the most comfortable seats and a ride better than some luxury cars I’ve been in.

And an ’03 GTI, my primary vehicle.  With a “T” as in “turbo.”  As in I wonder if energy streams come out of the back end as they do from the Enterprise in the opening credits of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” when I hit the gas.  The sound system still works. She handles well in adverse weather, so I can ask for little else.

Old they may be, however, they’re all paid for, so that’s a plus.

This month the three of them formulated and tried to follow through on what looked like a suicide pact.

The F-150 started it. While Hubby drove home, the brake lines went out on him. He arrived safely by some act of grace. The dealer managed to get the parts, get it fixed, and retuned it to the road.

That being done, attention turned to the power steering on the Corolla. Just needed a little fluid and a bit of adjusting. She came back to her usual self for a few days until her brakes and fuel lines started acting up. Hubby took her to several repair shops, but no one was willing to touch it. He decided to do it himself. Right now, she’s in several pieces in the garage.

Then the GTI’s electrical system decided to flake out. First, the gas gauge thought it would be funny to bottom out at random, even just after I’d filled up. One trip to the dealer about an hour away.

Next, she began being balky about starting and stalled as I turned into the driveway. They replaced three electrical relays. OK. All is good. She took us to and from the last Ren Faire of the season without issue, a 180-mile round trip.

And then the next day, she started acting up again. And stalled on me in traffic. With a semi coming down the road behind me. Thanks be to whatever benevolent forces which started the car and saw me home that day. Hubby took it in; they replaced an engine speed sensor. She’s been fine since then.

For how long, we don’t know. But we do know what we want, and won’t need to scramble to figure out our next vehicle.

 

The Humble Yet Exalted Lentil

Courtesy Wikimedia

It’s practicing for fall out there today. We started the morning with a thunderstorm at 5:45. It poured for a couple of hours, then settled into sprinkles long enough so Oakley and I could do about a 20 minute walk.

If the weather chooses to practice for fall, then I will practice cooking for it. I decided to try a new lentil curry recipe in the slow cooker for dinner tonight. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

Among the legumes, lentils are arguably the easiest to cook. No need to soak them; just put them in a pot with water or stock and seasonings as suggested by a recipe or your culinary intuition and you have the beginnings of a meal in less than an hour. The red lentils cook in less than thirty minutes, so be aware of that if you choose them.  Check the liquid levels frequently, though, since they absorb like little sponges.

For a basic soup, sauté an onion and garlic to taste in olive oil in a good sized pot. Add the lentils and stock or water in a 2:1 ratio (i.e. 2 cups liquid to 1 cup lentils). I put in salt at the beginning. Some wait until the end due to concerns about toughness, but I’ve never had that happen.  When the lentils are done, correct for salt if needed, and add in some lemon juice and chopped spinach. The heat from the lentils will cook the spinach quickly.

Some cooks use a ham bone or bacon (precooked) to add flavor. Not my personal jam, but you do you.

Oh, you’re not in the mood for soup? If you soak and grind the lentils, you can make the crepe’s Indian cousin the dosa. Any good Indian website will have a recipe. I’ve not tried making them myself, but the restaurant we go to has them on the lunch buffet fairly frequently, so I will tell you they’re quite yummy.

Thanks to their ease in preparation and versatility, lentils have graced tables since 11,000 BCE. Native to central and western, Asia, they spread via trade routes across Europe and into India.  They can be grown in tough conditions and can return nitrogen to the soil after depletion by two or three seasons of cereal crops such as corn or wheat. They don’t need a lot of water, either, in order to thrive.

Nutritionally, they are quite the little powerhouses. According to the USDA, 100 grams of cooked lentils provide 116 calories, 10 grams of fiber, and lots of B vitamins. The type of fiber may be beneficial in balancing blood sugar levels for people living with diabetes. And they have quite a bit of protein, too.

All that nutrition, versatility, easy to grow, available in almost any grocery store? There is nothing to dislike about lentils.

 

 

 

Pesto Change-O

food ingredients recipe cook
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Today is August 1. In the earth based religions, today is Lammas, the first harvest at the height of summer.* Herbs and tomatoes reach their peak right about now. If you’re looking for a great way to use them,  something suitable for a feast, or just want something yummy on your pasta, fish, chicken, scrambled eggs, or bruschetta, try pesto.

“Pesto” means “pounded.” It’s a close relative to “pestle” as in “mortar and…” Once upon a time before food processors and blenders the cook put the herbs, nuts, cheese, and oil into a mortar and pounded away until they created a paste-like substance. Now it’s just a matter of loading everything into a food processor and pressing a button.

My food processor’s been busy this summer thanks to the productivity of the basil, enabling me to make several batches already. I use Patricia Wells’ pistou formula from her book Bistro Cooking  as a blueprint:

2 cups basil leaves, 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, 2 tablespoons pine nuts, 3 large garlic cloves cut in half, 1/2 cup Parmesan. Put everything in the food processor, pulse it a couple of times to get the party started, and let it rip until it makes a paste.

This is classic pesto, or pistou in French. If you don’t have all the ingredients on hand, feel free to improvise. Since pine nuts involve a trip to the Italian market and run on the exorbitant side, I use almond meal or walnuts. No basil? No problem. Try cilantro. Or (I can’t believe I’m saying this out loud) kale. Yes, kale. The chef at my favorite lunch/tea/coffee makes pesto with it. He uses it on flatbreads and in his grilled cheese sandwiches. It plays nicely with its colleagues (read: not bitter and stringy ) in that application.

If you want to do something different, try pesto Trapenese. It includes tomatoes for a Sicilian spin. I haven’t tried it myself, but might just be giving this variation courtesy of Lidia Bastianich a try very soon.

With a basic formula and seasonal ingredients, the pesto-bilities are endless. (Well, someone had to say it…)

 

 

 

*For readers celebrating Lammas, brightest of bright blessings from me and Oakley. May this be a day of abundance and joy for you and whomever joins your celebration.

 

 

Fourteen Pills

Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy

I held the small bottle of pills in my hand. Fourteen pills. One twice a day for seven days. “May this be for the best and highest,” I stated before taking the first one.

Thirteen pills.

Since when, March, maybe even late February, I’d been eating echinacea, cranberry juice capsules, uva ursi, and olive leaf extract for a bladder infection that just wouldn’t go away.  Oh, it would calm down for a couple of weeks, then would drag me out of a sound sleep too many nights in a row with urgent trips to the bathroom.

I just need to take more of this; I just need to have a good night’s sleep; I just need not to drink this or that and it will take care of itself. I chanted that litany to myself and to Hubby.

Twelve.

The last couple of weeks found me feeling as if I were coming down with the flu, going into the fatigue, the aches, a bit of a chill, then it would go away. I’d feel better, then it would come back.

No, I don’t want to go to urgent care. I know they’re OK with us paying by credit card since we don’t have insurance right now* but I just need to figure out the right combination of herbs and homeopathy.

Eleven.

No, really, I just need to double up on this and….

You know I don’t like doctors.**

Ten.

Oh, I just have a middle aged lady bladder. Really, i just have to do this and that and no, I don’t because I don’t want to find out I’m diabetic right now.

Nine.

Woke up feeling as if I were coming down with the flu again, plus had a cramping sensation so intense that I feared that my periods were coming back on line. I dug through the drawers in the powder room. Found the thermometer, an old glass one that I think we bought when we first were married. Washed it very well. Popped it in my mouth, held it for a three minute eternity.

Eight.

Yep. Elevated temperature. Couldn’t tell how much, but it was elevated. Very well. Now what do I do?

Seven.

Went to Dr. Weil’s website. You will need antibiotics. Period. End of quotation. Not much to be done from a supplement and nutrition standpoint.

OK, what would I do if this were Oakley? I would have taken him in much sooner. He doesn’t have insurance, but that’s not an issue. So, even though we can pay for our doctor visits out of pocket, thank The Mystery, why am I doing this to myself?

Six.

Oh, let’s see…arrogance, fear, a total lack of self respect and esteem, maybe? Will wrestle with that in my journal later.

But for now, take Oakley to day care and proceeded to urgent care.

No insurance? OK, we just need you to pay a deposit. Have a seat.

Five.

The nurse gave me the bag with the plastic cup, wipes, and a lid, then pointed me to the rest room. A far cry from childhood samples caught in a baby food jar.

That completed, the nurse practitioner came in, gave me a once over and asked all the questions: how long had this been going on, pain levels, and any allergies they needed to know about. No judgement, no shaming, nothing but gentle care. OK, we’ll call in a prescription for an antibiotic to the pharmacy across the street.

Four.

Went to the pharmacy. Browsed while I waited. Bounced back and forth between keto and vegan magazines until the headache took hold. Prescription filled, not as much as I feared, plus the pharmacy tech found a couple of coupon codes after I told her we didn’t have insurance.

Three.

Went home, set intention that the pills be for the best and highest. Had a snack (the nurse practitioner explained that it would upset my stomach otherwise), and took the first pill.

Two.

Time to pick Oakley up. Started feeling better on the way home.

One.

I slept through the night.

I’m back.

 

 

*When Hubby was pushed into retirement four years ago, he just took a lump sum without benefits. The company that bought the one where he’d worked for over 35 years is notoriously unkind to retirees. They offered us a COBRA plan for $2K a month. We tried going through the ACA, but kept getting calls and letters requesting more information and more copies of his W2 and 1040s for his last couple of years. We withdrew after three months of fighting with them.

**Long story about why I look askance at anyone in a white coat that goes far beyond the scope of this entry.

The Garden and Tech Reports for 6.19.19

 

agriculture basket beets bokeh
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com                                                                  

And finally a couple of weeks ago, the clouds parted and the sun came out, drying out the garden bed soil enough to plant a few tomatoes and herbs.

First I had to dig out about two inches of soil to get rid of the mesclun mix that had taken over the bed. Had I not done that, I would still be pulling it out by hand. Sprinkled in some dried chicken manure to replenish it, then poked holes for the lavender, parsley, sweet and Thai basils, and tomatoes. Three red ones, one golden, and one cherry (cherry is small and red, so we have a double count with it). Two of the tomatoes have set blossoms. The lavender blossoms opened to graciously share their fragrance with us and the bees. Now all I need to do is water as needed, pull a couple of weeds now and then, and wait.

The tech issues were a little more complicated. Sometime in the wee smalls of Monday morning, the modem that had served us well by keeping us connected to the outside world via the DSL line installed in 2002 if I remember correctly, joined the choir invisible, ceased to exist, etc. It became an ex-modem.

Usually, Hubby deals with tech issues while I make a cake. He was out of town. I called him to let him know what was going on and to please call my cell phone (our “landline” is actually a VOIP* system).

Now, bearing in mind that he was a telecomm engineer** for 35 years, he began rapid-fire troubleshooting questions, some of which I could answer (no, no adverse weather; yes, I did the unplug/plug thing; what’s wrong with it is that I can’t get connectivity, period).

“You’ll have to call support.”

I have to call support. I’d rather go to the dentist and gynecologist at the same time, thank you very much. And have them trade ends.

Not having much choice, I sucked it up and called. The human rep I spoke with after negotiating the queue was kind and friendly and helpful. He talked me through the steps of rebooting, and then…

And then with no warning, the power went out.

Rep asked when I thought the power would be back. I guessed about two hours. He or his supervisor would call me back then. OK, thanks.

And then my text chime went off several times. Hubby had tried to call, but kept getting the “all circuits are busy” message. What is going on? Did the tower go out?

I refrained from replying, “How the hell should I know?” I just called him, told him that there had been a power failure in the middle of the call to the support center, and that I needed to call Com Ed.

Com Ed didn’t know what was going on, either. I submitted an automated report.

Another call from Hubby. No, dear, I don’t know what happened to the power.

At this time, the muscles around my left eye started getting twinge-y. Went to the powder room where we keep the over the counter meds in search of something to take to keep the twitches and twinges from blossoming into a full blown cluster headache. I was out of my preferred pain killer. Great.

Breathing my way through the discomfort, I called Com Ed for an update. Very small, localized outage due to an equipment failure. If this was the transformer that I think it was and if anyone from Com Ed read this, we told you so.

The text chime dinged several more times. Updates from Com Ed, and forwarded texts from Hubby that he’d received from them.

Confirmed that I’d received them. Tried to sit quietly. Tried to visualize the tight muscles giving me the headache unwinding.

And with a flurry of beeps and chirps, the power made a triumphant return.

Now to wait for the ISP rep to call back.

And wait.

And update Hubby, who reminded me that the call center closed at five and the odds were that they wouldn’t call back. And wait.

No call. Five o’clock rapidly approached.

I called again. Negotiated the queue, ran through the paces with another pleasant rep. Yep. Sounds like a dead modem. We’ll get someone out tomorrow. Thank you.

Called Hubby for another update. Another round of troubleshooting questions (yes, they ran tests; no, I don’t know which ones; the guy will be here between eight and noon; African or European?)

Done with technology for the day, I walked Oakley. I ate ice cream for dinner. I had a salad or something to mitigate the ice cream, but I ate it while I stared off into space.

At least I slept OK that night. The tech arrived at the end of the time frame I’d requested, but he quietly and efficiently did his job, bringing us a new modem that brought us up to speed, literally and figuratively.

For now, we are able to do what we need to online, but hopefully we won’t take 20 years for the next upgrade.

 

* stands for Voice Over Internet Protocol. Same as calling on an actual landline, but over the internet.

**who worked on one of the rudimentary forms of the internet in the days of our courtship.

The What Is This Garden That You Speak Of? Report for 5/30/19

 

variety of vegetables
Photo by Ella Olsson on Pexels.com

If all unfolds as it looks like it’s going to this evening and possibly tomorrow, May 2019 will be the rainiest one on record in these parts. The raised bed is a mud pit. As well as having to wait for it to dry out, I have to take out the top two inches of soil due to the rogue mesclun mix that took over and threatens to do so again this year. After that, I need to replace it with more soil and some fertilizer (organic, of course). And then I can plant.

I grow more than a bit impatient to do so. I know that I’m not the only one. Last night one of the local newscasts interviewed a farmer located about fifteen miles west of me. I think Oakley and I have driven past his fields on our adventures. The farmer said that he has as much as two feet of standing water in some places. If the crops can be planted by June 10, things will work out OK. Yield will be somewhat impacted, but  they will be all right. If not, well, that’s a problem.

I’m just grateful that we are not that dependent on my paltry gardening skills to put food on the table and that I don’t depend on the weather for my livelihood. Nevertheless, it’s starting to grate on the nerves. The daily soundtrack this month has included thunder and the patter of rain against the window as well as the rattle of hail. A couple of weeks ago the call of the tornado sirens livened things up. I wasn’t expecting that, at least not at 11:30 AM. No damage, but I don’t remember sirens going off that early in the day. Ever.

We didn’t have sirens on Memorial Day, but we did have a microburst on the north side of town. That’s a good five miles from me. Some trees parted company with the ground and one of the big box hardware stores lost a significant chunk of the roof, but everything was still standing.

So we wait. The seven-day forecast during the noon news indicated a drier stretch of about three days next week. Maybe then…maybe then….