10 February 2016

Le Château du Moulin (3)

Here are a few detail shots of the château from different angles. Just looking at them boosts my morale a little. I can console myself right now with the idea that it will be June again soon and I'll be able to go back to Le Moulin and other beautiful Loire Valley places before too long.

According to the official web site, the Château du Moulin is closed for the winter season until Easter. Even if it were open, I wouldn't have driven there over the past few days, what with the stormy weather we've been having.

Strong winds have blown limbs out of some of our trees. Heavy rains have created torrents of water on some streets, and big ponds of water in low spots. I had to go out in the car yesterday, so I can report from personal experience that it was a wild and woolly day in Saint-Aignan.

But back to Le Moulin: as I've said, I would never have made the hour-long drive from Vouvray, where we were staying, to see it in October 2000 if I hadn't noticed an almost stray photo in the Michelin green guide. I had never heard of it before. It is off the beaten track of the major Loire sights, over in the Sologne woods. As it was, we didn't get there until late in the day — there was a lot to see along the way.

The Cadogan guide says of Le Moulin: "The brick changes colour here and there, going from orange to purple. The typical Sologne lozange patterns in the brick give way at one point to an intriguing pattern of squares within squares." You can see that in my close-up photo above.

09 February 2016

Le Château du Moulin (2)

We're having really stormy weather right now. Yesterday morning the winds were hard and gusty. When I went out with the dog, it started pouring rain and we got soaked. This morning a new storm front is moving in, so we can expect more of the same.

Meanwhile, here are a few more photos of the Château du Moulin, near the big town of Romorantin. The village right next to the château is called Lassay-sur-Croisne, and at the church there you can see a wall painting showing what Le Moulin looked like centuries ago, before all the modern modifications were made.

When the last descendant of Philippe du Moulin died in the year 1900, the château was bought by a certain Maurice Compaignon de Marchéville, who he spent a dozen or more years having it modernized. His descendant still occupied the place as recently as 15 years ago, when we caught a glimpse of her on our guided tour, and maybe she still does. She discreetly closed the door to what looked like her upstairs kitchen as we trooped into her bedroom to see all the old furniture, furnishings, and paintings.

One of the most interesting rooms to visit is the old kitchen, which dates back to the Renaissance, I think. It features a cavernous fireplace with a spit for roasting meat, and there's a little round cage that they put a dog in. When the dog ran, the spit turned. As the guide told us when we did the tour, that might have been the invention of the hot dog!

The Château du Moulin web site says that Philippe du Moulin's birthdate remains a mystery to this day. There is one figure in a wall painting in the church at Lassay-sur-Croise who might well be du Moulin. He died in eastern France in 1506 in the town of Langres, of which he had become the governor, and he was buried there — but his heart was removed from his body and brought back to the church in Lassay, according to his wishes.

I'm translating from the Château du Moulin web site. All the photos in these posts are ones I took on June 27, 2004, when CHM and I went and walked around the château.

08 February 2016

Le Château du Moulin (1)

The Château du Moulin was built over a period of 25 years starting in the year 1480. It's located near Romorantin, the biggest town in the Sologne region of the Loire Valley, and about 20 miles or 30 km east of Saint-Aignan. The Cadogan Loire guidebook calls it "one of the most romantically moated of all Loire châteaux, among the finest."

Philippe du Moulin was a loyal servant of Charles VIII, who was one of the first French kings to mount a military campaign in Italy. Du Moulin rescued him when ignominious defeat faced the French forces in a battle in 1495. Charles VIII was born in Amboise in 1470, became king at the age of 13, and died in 1498. Du Moulin lived until 1506. That period marked the end of what is now called the Middle Ages, and the beginning of the French Renaissance that was inspired by contact with Italy.

The Château du Moulin was built as a fortress, surrounded by a moat, high walls, and defensive towers. Those forbidding fortifications were torn down in later centuries to let in some daylight and turn the place into a more comfortable residence. As far as I know, it is still privately owned today and occupied for at least part of the year. When we visited for the first time in the year 2000, we caught a glimpse of the owner, a woman who was living in the main tower.

There are quite a few brick châteaux in the flat and forested Sologne region, where there used to be a lot of marshland and there wasn't much building stone readily available. While more Renaissance and less Gothic in style, the Louis XII wing of the Château de Blois is a notable example from about the same period. The author of the Cadogan guide calls Le Moulin "a dreamy place, hidden in the countryside...." The visitor's impression is that it's deep in the woods, really.

07 February 2016


Yesterday was a scramble to get a plane ticket, a train ticket, and a hotel room in Paris. It's done, though. So my departure date is set. I'll be flying from Paris to Atlanta on Air France and then from Atlanta to New Bern in North Carolina. I'm looking forward to being there again.

I'll be spending one night at the Hôtel des Carmes in Paris. It's in the Latin Quarter, and it has an elevator! It's in the same neighborhood where I first spent time in Paris 46 years ago, and I've stayed at the Carmes several times over the years. I always enjoy being in Paris, and I'm hoping for decent weather.

The photos here have nothing to do with my trip. I just decided to post them today. But it's true that getting out of Saint-Aignan and over to the States is a little like trying to get out of a spider's web. It's a struggle.

06 February 2016

Same old same-old

Since I'll be traveling next weekend, maybe I'll come up with some new material for this blog. As for the next four or five days, it's supposed to... wait for it... turn rainy again. Are we all surprised?

It's nice that the local oak trees keep their leaves all winter. They give us some gold color when the sun shines. The gold leaves fall when new leaves start to appear in the spring.

The photo above shows, from the foreground to the horizon, new vines just getting started, productive old vines, and neglected old vines that have been taken over by a new stand of locust trees. The vineyard evolves.

05 February 2016

Callie and her trunks

Here are a few photos that I took one week ago today (Jan. 29, 2016). It was one of the few days we've had recently when skies were clear and the sun was shining during my morning walk with Callie the collie.

It was a pretty morning because there was a light white frost on the green grass, and there was enough sunlight to bring out the colors in the woods around the edge of the vineyard.

When I put "trunks" in the title above, I didn't mean swimming trunks. I meant grapevine trunks, which Callie collects. Whenever she finds one along the edge of the dirt road or at the end of a row of vines, she picks it up in her jaws and brings it home. Nobody taught her to do that. She just enjoys it. We save the trunks with the idea that one day we'll burn them in the wood stove.

Callie and her souches de vigne and Ken and his collards... The weather has been so mild this winter that I haven't yet done the final collard harvest. There are six plants, and the one in the photo below is the most spectacular one.

I may harvest the greens over the next day or two, depending on how rainy the weather gets, because I am getting ready to go back to North Carolina in a few days and I'd hate for a hard freeze to kill the collard plants while I'm away.

04 February 2016

Deux arbres

Un noyer (walnut)...

Et un pommier (apple)...

The walnut tree is out in the vineyard, along the gravel road. The apple tree is in our back yard.

03 February 2016

Wine and cheese

I won't go into recipes for soupe à l'oignon gratinée again. I just like this photo. I had beef broth left over from our recent pot au feu (boiled beef dinner), and we always have Comté cheese in the refrigerator. I had just bought a bag of yellow onions too. Voilà.

Usually you'd have a red wine with French onion soup, but here's a white wine that would be good with it too. It's a fruity, off-dry Sauvignon Blanc made up in Limeray by François Péquin at the Domaine des Bessons. It's rich-tasting, not acidic, and that would make it good with the cheese.

Notice that this Arroma is an AOC Touraine, not a Touraine-Amboise. That's because it's made with Sauvignon Blanc grapes and not Chenin Blanc. Touraine-Amboise whites, like Vouvray wines, are made from Chenin, and range from dry to sweet.

François Péquin is a « vigneron indépendant » — an independent "vinesman." That's a word I just invented to mean grape grower and winemaker. He displays the logo of an association he belongs to on his corks and marketing materials.

02 February 2016

Lunch like in Toulouse

We're still eating confit de canard — slow-cooked, long-preserved duck. I made it nearly two months ago, and it's been curing in duck fat since then. The duck legs and thighs had been slow cooked in the same fat. The meat is falling off the bones, and it's delicious.

I've kept the cooked duck pieces down in the cold pantry off our utility room. It hasn't been as cold in there as it might have been if we'd had more freezing temperatures outdoors more frequently, but still. To enhance the lunch experience, we had well-seasoned white coco beans and a couple of poached Toulouse sausages.

Beans are of course good food — good for your heart! And so is, they say, duck and duck fat. It's the French paradox. Eat what you want, within reason, and stay in good health. Always have some red wine alongside the food. (My blood pressure, as tested by my doctor last week, was 120 over 70.)

01 February 2016

The vines on a rare bright morning

Yesterday I posted about wines, so today I'll post about vines. These are not photos of the vineyards around Limeray but of vineyards near Saint-Aignan. I'll limit myself to four.

Our rainfall total for January climbed up to 99 millimeters over the last two days of the month. That included one short-lived snow episode earlier. Ninety-nine millimeters equals about 4 inches, which is twice our normal monthly amount of precipitation. It's sloppy out there and the pond is overflowing.

Rain had just ended overnight on Friday when I took these photos. Everything was dripping, but the clouds had suddenly blown away and the sun was rising in a clear sky.

Callie was patiently exploring as I took the time to snap photos. She does an awful lot of sniffing out there. I'm sure deer, badgers, foxes, and who knows what other animals — maybe wild boars — are active during the overnight hours, leaving their scent scattered all around.

We had about 24 hours of steady but fairly light rain over the weekend. It finally ended Sunday around noontime. I got soaked twice on my weekend walks, and so did Callie. It's warm though — over 50ºF (11ºC) this morning before dawn. Our true winter will have lasted about three days this year, unless the weather really changes this month.

31 January 2016

Going to Limeray for Touraine-Amboise wines

Last Wednesday was "Winesday" for us. We drove up to the Touraine-Amboise wine production area on the north side of the Loire river, between Blois and Tours. It's a "sub-appellation" that is basically a mirror image of the string of Touraine-Chenonceaux wine villages along the south bank of the Cher river, closer to Saint-Aignan and Montrichard. Here's a link to a map of the eastern part of the Touraine production zone, which includes the Vouvray, Chinon, Bourgueil, Montlouis, and Mesland appellations, among others.

Our first stop was the Domaine des Bessons, right on the border between the villages of Cangey and Limeray. It's a winery we discovered two or three years ago and we've now been there three or four times. On Wednesday, it was François Péquin himself who "received" us and poured us tastes of two wines that we ended up buying. The winery's brochure says that no pesticides or chemical fertilizers are used in the Domaine des Bessons vineyards.

The wine that Walt wanted, called Les Silex, was out of stock until the 2015 vintage is bottled in March. It's a very dry Chenin Blanc. Mr. Péquin introduced us to two other white wines, one a fruity, off-dry Sauvignon Blanc called Arroma and the other a late harvest Chenin Blanc dessert white that he calls Médium. Both are sweeter than the white wines we normally look for, but both tasted delicious. We bought six bottles of each, at 6 euros per bottle, for special occasions.

Our second stop was the Cellier Léonard de Vinci in Limeray. It's a cooperative operated by a group of local vignerons to make and sell red, rosé, and white wines made from the grapes they grow. We bought 10 liters of dry Chenin Blanc and 10 liters of Gamay red wine made from what the woman at the co-op called '"pure Gamay-Beaujolais". Both are sold en vrac (in bulk) and we will bottle them ourselves (10 liters is the equivalent of 13 bottles).

We also got twenty liters of red wine in "bag-in-box" packaging, one a Gamay-Côt blend and the other a red vin ordinaire (now called vin de France) made using a blend of two or three different local varieties of Gamay. I'm looking forward to tasting the difference between the two Gamay wines and also comparing them with the Gamay blend that includes some Malbec, which is known as Côt here in the Loire Valley.

30 January 2016


Here's a kind of impressionistic view of the Château de Chaumont-sur-Loire, which is about halfway between the big towns of Blois and Amboise on the Loire River. It's pretty much directly north of Montrichard, which is on the Loire tributary called the Cher. Rain was falling when I took the picture. The château really looms over the village, doesn't it?

There's a modern bridge over the wide Loire river at Chaumont, and on the south end of the bridge is this building. We have driven up there and crossed the river many times — it's one of our favorite ways to get to Blois — and this old hotel/bar/restaurant has been closed for at least the last 13 years, and maybe longer. It's too bad, because the building is interesting.

The building below, on the road between Chaumont and Amboise, is much less interesting-looking, but it appears to be a good restaurant, if you can believe the reviews on TripAdvisor. We haven't yet tried it — maybe one day soon.

Speaking of rain, it's supposed to fall again today. January turned out to be a very wet month, but with freezing temperatures for only a few days in the middle. It's going to end damply.

Finally, above is another house on the Cher river across from Montrichard. Just because I like it. The front door makes it look like it was a restaurant or shop at some point in history. I don't think it's open these days, or has been in quite a while.

29 January 2016

Driving through Montrichard

Montrichard (pop. 3,300) is a small town on the Cher river, in the greater Val de Loire area, that's 10 miles downriver from Saint-Aignan. It's about the same distance south of Amboise, and 20 miles south of the old royal city of Blois. This is the heart of the wine new Touraine-Chenonceaux wine production zone and appellation, and the famous Château de Chenonceau is just 6 or 7 miles to the west.

We drove through Montrichard a couple of days ago and I snapped some photos from the car. Don't worry — Walt was driving. The bridge across the Cher at this spot has retained its medieval look, though it has been rebuilt several times. It was last destroyed by German forces during WWII.

Above is a view of the river and the Montrichard riverfront from the bridge. The river is fairly low right now. The big building on the center right is the Hôtel Bellevue, and you can just see the town's beach on the right side of the image. We very nearly ended up living in Montrichard when we moved here a dozen years ago, but finally chose Saint-Aignan instead.

The old building at the south end of the bridge, which you see directly above and also in the first picture in this post, is now home to a pub called Le Passeur. I've been looking for more information about the building but haven't found anything so far.

28 January 2016

Just a photo

We went out driving around yesterday. The purpose was to go buy some Touraine Amboise wine up in the village of Limeray (pop. 1,250), on the north side of the Loire, across from the town of Amboise.

I took a few photos. There's one of them: it's a building in the wine village of Pouillé (pop. 806), just up the road from us by 4 or 5 miles. It's typical of the area, with its brickwork trim. The building used to be used as the village hall, but that's now moved to the other side of the village. It was spitting rain yesterday morning, and it's supposed to be raining outside right now.

27 January 2016

[’ari ko ko ko]

I soaked them for about 15 hours, and I just saw a recipe on Marmiton that says to soak them for 24 hours. I've never considered soaking dried beans for such a long time. But even after all that soaking — trempage in French — these little white beans still weren't completely cooked in the crock pot after five hours. I cooked a whole kilogram of them — that's 2.2 lbs.

They're called « haricots cocos » or « haricots cocos blancs » — I'm not sure about putting a S on blancs or on coco. The French language is very complicated when it comes to these agreement things, and sometimes trying to figure out how it works seems like a waste of time. Better just to eat the beans, which to me seem to be what we call "navy beans" in the U.S. They are smaller than "great northern" beans and much smaller than French lingots, aka cannellini or white kidney beans. This site says that navy beans are also called "Boston beans, the white coco, pea beans or alubias chicas."

My navy beans finally cooked on low heat  in the crock pot for 10 hours or so, even after the long soak, and they are really good. We had them with some collard greens. I didn't bother making Boston baked beans with the coco(s)... yet. We just ate them as they were, with lardons fumés and sausages, yesterday. I bought three types of sausage, as you can see in the photos: saucisses de Strasbourg (weenies, basically), saucisses de Montbéliard (smoked pork sausages), and a saucisson fumé cuit à l'ail (a big fat garlicky smoked sausage). I think that tomorrow I'll make Boston baked beans with the leftovers.

26 January 2016

What became of the pot au feu

Sometimes you are just too busy to take photos, or not in the mood. Or you take photos and they don't seem good enough to post, to be interesting. That's what happened Saturday, when I made the pot au feu, or French pot roast.

Yesterday I started over. After our lunch out on Sunday, which featured roast venison as the main course, it seemed like we needed something different for Monday's lunch. To the right is what I started with: left over beef, carrots, turnips, and broth.

I put the potatoes away for later.

The rest went into a new preparation: sauce bolognaise, or bolognese, with tomatoes and mushrooms, which I added. The meat was nearly falling apart, so I just shredded it with my fingers (making "pulled beef") and chopped it coarsely with a big knife. I diced the carrots and turnips up very finely.

Meanwhile, I "sweated"  some chopped onions and mushrooms in a big pot in olive oil. To that mixture, I added the chopped beef and diced vegetables. I poured in some pureed tomato pulp and a good amount of tomato paste, along with some beef broth, wine, and spices, to make a meat sauce to eat with pasta.

We served the sauce over penne pasta, with grated Parmesan cheese and a drizzle of olive oil. You can make the sauce as spicy as you like, or as thick or thin as you want by adding more liquid (red wine is good). The shredded beef is very tender, and when you eat the sauce you can take comfort in the idea that you are also eating carrots and turnips — not to mention tomatoes.

The pot au feu was transformed and unrecognizable, but delicious this way. We have sauce left for another meal on another day. Maybe on pizza, or maybe in lasagne. Now I have to go get some Mozzarella, Cantal, and/or Ricotta cheese before we start again.

25 January 2016

Sunday lunch with neighbors... sharing news of local doings

Neighbors invited us and another neighbor to lunch yesterday. These are people we don't see all that often — one is the mayor of our village, pop. 1200 — but have known for nearly 13 years now. Lunch was a smoked salmon and avocado appetizer followed by roast venison in a red-wine sauce with chanterelle mushrooms and a wedge of a potato pancake. Then there was a cheese course followed by dessert — tiramisu and chocolate pots de crème (pudding) served in small glasses called verrines, accompanied by tiny lemon tarts and bite-size chocolate cakes.

The photos here are some I took on this date in 2010...

We had local white (Sauvignon Blanc) and red (appellation Chenonceaux) wines with, respectively, the salmon and venison courses, and then a glass of Saint-Emilion red (Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon) from down near Bordeaux with the cheese course. The cheeses on the platter included Reblochon from the Alps, Gorgonzola from Italy, Brie from the Paris region, and a couple of Loire Valley goat cheeses. It was a 3-hour lunch, including coffee and conversation (in French).

I didn't take pictures, of course. Our neighbors have a daughter who has been living in southern California, with her husband and small children, the past couple of years, so we talked a lot about that and their trips over to the U.S. to visit. They've been to L.A., San Diego, Las Vegas, and the Grand Canyon. They seem to be really interested in California and the lifestyle out there. They've enjoyed their first experiences driving cars with automatic transmissions. They don't speak much or any English, but they've been able to get by. Actually, their three grandchildren (the oldest is 12), who are of course enrolled in American schools, have become their translators and interpreters.

Yesterday the weather turned beautiful in the afternoon, sunny and almost warm-feeling. The neighbors' living room is a recent addition to their old farmhouse — they converted a garage — with big sliding glass doors on the south and west sides and surrounded by a wide patio. The sun was really streaming in, making for a pleasant change from the gray, foggy, damp weather we'd been having for a week or so.

...except for this 2016 shot of our house and the pond with snow last week.

We also talked about Saint-Aignan and learned a lot about local happenings:
  • businesses including our pharmacy will soon be moving out of the center of town to more modern buildings with big parking lots on the outskirts (near SuperU and the zoo)
  • another boulangerie is closing down, leaving just two in "downtown" Saint-Aignan, where there were five when we moved here in 2003
  • a new restaurant has opened near the "upper" town's big parking lot, the Hôtel de ville, and the Villa Rose, but it's getting mixed reviews
  • an old restaurant, le Crêpiot, is under new management but apparently the quality of the food and service has not suffered
  • a new fast-food place called Patàpain (think Panera Bread in the U.S.) will soon be opening up across the river in Noyers, not far from the relatively new McDonald's over there
The times and the town, they are a-changin'.