Saturday, August 5, 2017

Plum jelly, or something else

The plum tree is producing small plums this year. I find them a bit too tart for just plain eating, so Paul asked me to make an open pie (tarte) with the first batch he collected. That was disastrous. It was too much work to get the pits out, so I warned him I was putting the plums on, whole, and he'd just have to watch out for pits. I didn't want to put too much sugar on it. I forgot to put crushed almonds to absorb the liquid. I forgot to smear egg white over the crust before putting the plums on it. Plums are full of water and, well, so was the pie. Really, we had stewed plums in a pie shell.
The next batch went into what started out to be jam, but, again, I was lazy and didn't feel like pitting all those little plums. I cooked the plums and sugar together; the brew thickened; I skimmed the froth; I put the plums through a sieve to get the stones out. All  went well. The brew was looking more like a thick jelly, though. It coated the spoon, indicating the right thickness to put it into the jars. The next morning, I tipped one of the jars and, well, it's not a thin syrup, but it's not a thick jam or jelly, either. It's more the consistency of what the French call a "coulis". I have looked through the online dictionaries and it seems we haven't come up with a better term in English. I can imagine it over cheesecake. I used it on vanilla ice cream, yesterday. Very nice.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

More summer nothingness

We had another heat wave that broke gently. Yesterday, we had light rain in the morning and a big storm in the early evening so the sky is clean -- not really clear; it's very cloudy. It's even chilly!
Last Monday, though we were in the midst of the heat wave. The temperature got into the mid-30°C range. I went to visit a friend who was having her chemo treatment at the Hôpital Européen Pompidou way over on the far side of Paris, near the Place Ballard in the 15th. I took the RER into Paris and connected to Line 8 on the Métro, which I took to the end. The RER train was one of the new ones, air-conditioned, and line 8 was not jam-packed, so it was bearable. The treatment ended at about 3:30, so she and the other friend who had come to visit went their way and I decided to take a bus. A trip home by bus from that hospital is 3 buses. It usually takes a little over 2 hours, but I had an e-book.... I thought that at least one of the lines I was taking had air-conditioned buses, but it turns out, they don't, or they don't any more. As I was getting on the 46 bus at the Gare du Nord, the driver and I talked about the heat and he said they were eliminating the air-conditioned buses because of the COP21 Paris agreement. I have trouble believing that. If the aim is to push people out of their cars into public transport, then public transport should be comfortable. I also mis-judged the mid-summer traffic; there should have been less. The buses should have been able to go faster than usual, not slower. It took almost 1 1/2 hours to get to the Gare du Nord on the 42; my ticket was just barely valid for the 46. Then, it was another hour to Vincennes. The 114 was over-crowded, but I was one of the first on the bus, so I did have a seat. This is no way to convince people to take public transport -- almost 3 hours point-to-point. There are shorter paths, I know. I could have gone back underground to reverse my trip. I could have taken the tram from Ballard to Porte d'Orée and gotten the 46, there. My complaint is not really about the time it took, but about the discomfort. One thing I think I should also mention, though, is that 47 years ago, I would have remarked on the stench, and now, that is a thing of the past -- people wash and use deodorant.
We went to see the Christopher Nolan version of Dunkirk (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunkirk_(2017_film) on Wednesday. It's quite well done -- once you figure out the time scale. What's happening to those from the beach is happening over several days, What's happening to those in the sky is in hours and those in the small boats a full day. Lots of noise; there's very little dialog. It's not really about the battle leading up to the evacuation (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunkirk_(1958_film, which was shown on TV on Thursday, here) , nor about what it was like on the beach, especially for the French troops (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Weekend_at_Dunkirk; "Week-end à Zuydcoote" -- the original French title). This is about the evacuation. Sure the other films are also about the evacuation, but they have more background leading up to it. This has a little background, but our heroes find themselves quickly in the sea. In fact, now having seen the 1958 film, I think this one seems to take a lot of its scenes from the end of that one. It's definitely to be seen on a big screen. I noticed it is also in IMAX -- for me, that would be too much.
We've started eating the first cherry tomatoes from the garden. The big tomatoes are really big this year and haven't started turning red, yet. I hope the first ones are ripe before we go south. The red plum tree is producing this year. The plums are not quite ripe, yet. They, too, usually get ripe when we're not here. Paul picked some yesterday, hoping I'd make a pie, today. I'd better get to it, then.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Mid-July

Let's see. We had some strawberries in May and June, but any new ones are now found by the snails and ants before we get to them. The raspberries are finished for the first crop. I've cut the branches that had fruit to make room for the branches that might have something in September. I have 3 bags of frozen raspberries in the freezer. The blueberry bush we bought in May is producing some nice fruit, but not enough for a whole dessert. The other day, we split a harvest of 10 berries. The red plum tree has lots of fruit this year. If the past serves as any indication, the plums will be ripe and fall off the tree right when we're on vacation. The greengage tree, child of the wonderful tree that was here when we bought the house, which produced such succulent plums, seems to have a branch with some plums on it this year. The old tree was chopped down several years ago, after losing yet another branch. This young tree grew right on the property line. Normally, we would have had to cut it down because you're not supposed to have trees or shrubs grow over 2m. high less than 2m. from the boundary, but our neighbor likes it and his side of the tree apparently produces more plums than ours. We just had to cut back the maple trees at the back, which I had planted to be trimmed as shrubs, but which grew into trees anyway. They were up against the boundary wall and were high enough to cast long shadows on that neighbor's yard.
Bastille Day, which is simply known as Fête Nationale, here, is over. The parade was very nice, as usual. The fact that the US President was invited was normal as this year marks the 100th anniversary of the entry of France in WWI. There was a demonstration against him on the 13th, organized by Indivisibles-France and Democrats Abroad. The consensus is that the invitation was the right thing to do, no matter who the President is. And the parade was excellent, with the sun shining and mild temperatures, so it went off without a hitch. As usual, when I see the planes flying over the Champs Elysées, I go up to my room and open the windows to see them fly over us barely a minute later. They don't fly exactly over us, some veer off to the left, over the Marne, and others fly just to the right, more over Fontenay, than Nogent. Still, we have a nice view and the noise drowns out everything.
After that ceremony, Macron flew off to Nice for a much sadder event. It was the anniversary of the 2016 terrorist attack by truck during the fireworks. It was a moving commemoration. I didn't see this last part, but have read about it this morning -- the singer, songwriter Calogero wrote a song about fireworks (Feux d'Artifices) some time ago, not for this, not right after the attack; it's a song that was already on an album of his. It's about taking a kid to see the fireworks, to put him up on your shoulders, to see the "stars", the "constellations", and so on -- you know, what people do at fireworks and what it means to them. He was asked to sing the song after the minute of silence last night. He couldn't finish it. He broke down. There were no fireworks in Nice this year. They had 86 lights up in the sky for the 86 victims.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Time flies!

In May, France elected a new president and in June, a new legislature. I must admit I'm happy with both results. The député for my district is not the one I voted for, but I'm not unhappy that the one who got elected did. It was a close call and they were both good choices, in my opinion. It was the first time in a long time that I entered a voting booth not really sure whom to vote for because I rather liked them both. Usually, if I can't decide, it's because I can't stand either.
 For the first round of the legislative election, we were out of town and had given our proxies to neighbor friends. We were down in Arles. We didn't visit the city this time. We were there for a very special occasion -- a friend from the Pierwige days was hosting a féria. (in French). He invited a group of us from the Pierwige, student days, but mostly the guests were business associates, partners, customers, and family, too. There were no bullfights, but there were games, if you like, with young cows -- testing the females to see if they would be good for breeding bull fighting stock and a bit of acrobat running with cows in the little arena. In the afternoon, there was a small equestrian show. Between the arena events, there was a pre-lunch appetizer cocktail, then lunch. Plus a hayride and or horse ride. It was enough to occupy the whole day.


 It was hot, too. Coming from Paris, we were not used to the heat. Of course, since then, we've had a heatwave, even in Paris, with temperatures getting close to 40°C. (over 100°F). And we still do not have air conditioning, so it makes for difficult sleeping conditions.
During this heat wave we had a visit from A. for a short week. We went to the Musée d'Orsay on Saturday morning. I had bought the tickets on line, so we had no wait at all. We were there just after opening, so it was still mostly empty. There's no way you can do the whole museum -- we stuck to the pre-Impressionists and the Impressionists. We had lunch in the restaurant, which is the original train station restaurant in all its 1900 beauty (walls and ceilings, not furniture) and took a long bus ride home. On Sunday, we "did" Ile de la Cité -- the Sainte Chapelle, the Conciergerie, the Archaeological Crypt and then a long bus ride home along a different route. Taking the bus is also a way of doing some tourism. Unfortunately, the buses we ended up on were not air-conditioned. In the afternoons, we sat out in the shade of the hazelnut tree in our yard.
 Monday -- a pleasant drive to Giverny. We got there early, but it's always crowded. It's a good thing we had our tickets, already. Parking used to be really near the house. Now, they've stuck it a good distance down the road. I did see where the old parking lot still is and how to get to it for the next time. None of the signs lead you there. If you follow the signs, you end up where we were. Also, the on-line ticket does not tell you to go to the group entrance, which is closer to the parking lot. We walked all the way to the main entrance only to be told to walk back to the group entrance. There were lots and lots of school groups. It was crowded in both the house and the gardens. It was a very nice visit, but paced a bit faster than we would have wished. We felt pushed along by the people behind us. We ended up at the restaurant where we'd reserved much earlier than planned, but that was not a problem. After lunch, we set the car's GPS to not allow highways and took a leisurely, but long route home, with a stop at La Roche Guyon. We were very happy to spend 3 hours getting home in the air-conditioning!
After three full days of excursions, we stayed home on Tuesday. Well, we went for a little walk into Nogent and around the Nogent market, but it was early -- too early for any shops to be open on the main street. Even the market was not very busy.
Wednesday, we headed out, again, to Chantilly and visited the Château with it's extensive art collection and antique books. The collections require air-conditioning and controlled humidity, but humans do not, so the restaurant (see the movie Vatel) is not air-conditioned, but it wasn't too bad. The high ceiling and being on the shady side of the building helped. After lunch, we hiked over to the stables, visited the horse museum and took in the little equestrian show before heading home.