28 July 2015

Tajine de poulet aux pruneaux et aux pois chiches

A tajine is a Moroccan dish that combines meat or vegetables or both with a spice blend that can include cinnamon, cumin, fenugreek, allspice, cayenne pepper, ground coriander seeds, and even curry leaves. Tajine vegetables are good when they are on the sweet side — sweet potatoes, winter squashes, parsnips, or carrots, for example. Another way to bring sweet flavors to the mix is to use dried fruit in the tajine, including prunes, dried apricots, or almonds. The Moroccan spice blend is called ras el hanout, and it's good if you can find it. Here's a recipe for it.

I made a tajine of chicken with prunes and chickpeas in early July. The process was to cut the chicken in half, sprinkle the halves with the Moroccan spice mix and salt and black pepper, and then brown them in a hot oven. Meanwhile sauté some sliced onions and garlic in vegetable or olive oil in a pan on top of the stove until they are translucent. Add a cup or two of chicken broth and two dozen prunes to the pan and let it come to a simmer.

When the chicken is browned but not yet cooked through, pour the flavored broth and prunes into the roasting pan in the oven and let everything continue cooking for 30 minutes or so at 180ºC (350ºF), until the chicken is pretty much done and the prunes are tender. Add a cup or more of cooked chickpeas and let it cook 10 more minutes longer. As a final touch, sprinkle the dish with toasted sesame seeds and garnish it with some fresh coriander (also called cilantro or chinese parsely) leaves, or another herb like basil or parsley. The chickpeas are starchy so you don't need rice, couscous, or potatoes with this kind of tajine.

27 July 2015

Le nouveau frigo

We got our new fridge about 10 days ago, and Walt has mentioned it on his blog but neither of us has posted any photos. Here are some.

We were lucky, again, to find just what we wanted in a refrigerator-freezer, and at a good price. It's a Beko model and it was manufactured in Turkey.

It has the freezer on the bottom, and it's no-frost throughout — what they call froid ventilé in French. I guess that would be fan-assisted cooling, or something like that. It seems to be the same principle as convection (fan-assisted) ovens. Because the air is moved around inside the appliance by an electric fan, there aren't really any cold spots (fridge) or hot spots (oven) inside to worry about. The temperature stays pretty constant in all parts of the thing.

We got the fridge from the Darty home appliances (électro-ménager) and electronics store up in Blois. It was delivered free of charge and the delivery guys took away the old fridge, which Darty said it would donate to a charity organization.

In Europe, or in France anyway, freezers are fitted with deep drawers instead of just racks and shelves. Our old fridge, a Samsung model that we bought in 2003 when we arrived here, had the freezer on the top, without drawers. It was a good fridge, but at age 12 it was showing signs of wear, so we went ahead and replaced it. We figured if it gave out on us, it would be an emergency. We'd have to scramble and maybe settle for a model that didn't have all the features we wanted. This way, we are set, in theory, for a few more trouble-free years.

The first thing we put in the new fridge, as you can see, was a bottle of sparkling wine for a celebration.

We've been taking advantage of a relatively strong U.S. dollar this year to renew some of our systems and appliances, including buying a second car, the fridge, and soon a new boiler (furnace). There are plenty of other home-improvement projects ahead of us — a new shower in the bathroom, a new back door and a new back gate, new shutters on the garden shed, and on and on. What else is new? Home-ownership is like this. This is the first time in our adult lives that we have lived in one house or apartment for more than 10 years.

At 70 cm wide, the Beko fridge is a little bit narrower than the old Samsung (74 cm). It's a lot taller too, but not too tall at 192 cm. As you can see from my photos here and in earlier posts, space is at a premium in our little kitchen. We've kept it the way it was when we bought the house, except for a new paint job and the appliances. The white tile is very clean-looking and plain, which we like. Maybe one day we'll have the whole room redone, but not right away.

It's only been 10 days, but we are pretty happy with the new fridge and its features so far.

26 July 2015

Pessimism, and some kisses

A lot of French farmers are feeling pretty pessimistic these days. They say they can't make a decent living in the current economic situation. They say also that intermediaries ("middle men") and those who own and run what's known as la grande distribution — the major supermarket chains, basically — are the ones making all the money. And they refuse to pay farmers enough for their products so that the farmers can stay in business.

This hot dry summer hasn't helped any, apparently. Big demonstrations by farmers have been all the news for a week or two, especially up in Normandy and Brittany, but also in the Loire Valley. I know just one farmer — he's a man who works out in the vineyard. I talk to periodically — he's very talkative, and fairly interesting. Sometimes his wife is out there working with him. They trim the vines, repair the vineyard support posts and wires, and do whatever it takes. Their main business is céréales — grains, including corn, they've told me. The vineyard work must be just a way to make ends meet.

Yesterday morning when I went out walking with Callie, somebody on a tractor/trimmer was working in a plot of vines up near the top of the vineyard, clipping off the tall top vines that don't bear any grapes. I couldn't see who was in the cab of the little tractor, and Callie gets nervous around farm machinery. We were just walking on by, but I waved my hand toward the tractor, in case the driver was somebody I knew and who knows me.

Well, it was the moonlighting grain farmer. As the tractor got closer to me and the dog, I recognized him and his big smile. At the end of a row of vines that he was trimming, he turned off the motor and got out to come shake hands with me and say bonjour. I suspect he wanted to greet Callie as much as me, because he used to have a border collie, he's told me, and since that dog passed on he's always missed him. Callie, who's not always the boldest dog, does love this man.

The conversation turned serious. The man told me the grapes this year are far smaller than they should be at the end of July. There won't be much wine, and the grape-growers won't have much to sell in 2016. At the same time, I should report I saw a recent report about the Bordeaux vineyards on the national news saying that even if the harvest is small, the quality of the wine produced will probably be exceptionally good. That's often the way it works. What it means is that wine prices will go up — again.

The man — I believe his name is Thierry — told me too that his cereal crops are suffering mightily. He said two large fields of corn he has, which he can't irrigate for some technical reason, have failed completely. He wnt on to say that he has recently handed off part of his land to one of his sons, who's pretty discouraged about being able to make a living as a farmer. Meanwhile, Thierry squatted down to pet Callie, smiled, talked easily about all this bad news, and enjoyed getting a lot of cheek and ear kisses.

By the way, it's supposed to rain today. I hope it helps. In France, grape-growers are not allowed to irrigate their vines.