Friday 30 November 2018

Preuilly News

From the minutes of the recent Preuilly council meeting, as reported in the local paper:

The local council has given the go ahead for the next stage of the work to restore the Chapelle de Tous les Saints. The council has thanked the Societé d'Archaeology de Preuilly, led by Bernard de la Motte for managing the first tranche of work, and also congratulated the SAP on the success of their summer nocturnal history walks.

The next part of the restoration will include the danse macabre.

As for the previous work on the Chapel the SAP will launch an appeal for donations, and cover the €5175 cost of administration themselves. The architect has estimated the second and third stages of the work at €94 000 and €71 000, making a total of €165 000 (plus tax), for which it is hoped to obtain €125 000 in grants. The council has voted to provide €10 000 to start the works. 

Wall paintings conservator Sabine de Freitas assesses the danse macabre in the Chapel.
The mayor brought up the subject of a proposed wind farm in the neighbouring commune of Bossay sur Claise. One of the turbines will actually be in the commune of Preuilly, at Maupertuis. He proposed agreeing to the presence of wind turbines in Preuilly's territory in principle. A secret ballot was held resulting in 8 for, 6 against and one abstention.

Maupertuis farm.
Sylvie Moreau, who has been working part time, mostly with the after school and holiday activities centre, is going to be full time now.

Sylvie with some kids.
To employ the music teacher David Roy, and ensure that music is offered as part of the curriculum in Preuilly, the mayor is going to pay €3500 to the town of Descartes, which is where the teacher is on salary.

The chapel with new roof and stabilised walls.

Five councillors have been given the task of auditing and updating the electoral roll.

How will they deal with those of us who are allowed to vote in France
 in the European and local elections because we are British...

Thursday 29 November 2018

A Calfs Head on a Plate

Boned and rolled calves heads on special at the supermarket.

There are several traditional French dishes which are very much an acquired taste. Escargots (snails) of course, but also andouillette (sausage made from pork intestines), gésiers (chicken gizzards) and tête de veau (calf's head). There are probably others, but you don't see them so frequently (for example, you virtually never see frogs legs).

Snails ready to heat up.

Snails are edible but on my 'why would you bother' list (sorry Greg). I have eaten them several times, and not just with the garlic butter that they are so famously served with. I've also had them as a sort of paté spread on toasted baguette, as well as served 'chasseur' style, with mushrooms and red wine. Frankly, I couldn't tell the difference between the snails and the mushrooms in the rich sauce.

Then there is andouillette. The all pervasive pong will put most people off before they take a mouthful. I'm not a fan but have eaten it occasionally. Even about half of French people don't like andouillette.

 A packet of gésiers from my freezer.

Gésiers I love and always have some in the freezer for adding to salad lunches. I first encountered them in a restaurant in Saint Junien, in Haute Vienne, on holiday, didn't know what they were, so ordered the salad with them in just to find out. I've been a fan ever since.

 On the left, sliced cooked tête de veau in sauce gribiche, ready to heat up; 
on the right, andouillettes.

And tête de veau. It is as unappetizing as it looks in the top photo, even cut into slices or bite sized morsels and served with vegetables and a sharp flavoured sauce as shown immediately above. The texture is gluey jelly as there is so much slow cooked connective tissue to chew through.

I applaud the French nose to tail approach to eating and their determined championing of these old and frugal dishes, but tête de veau is to be avoided if possible. To make up for it I am more than happy to eat kidneys, tongue, liver and brains, all of which I can buy from a specialist butcher who does nothing but offal at Loches market.

 My local specialist offal butcher, who tells me that November is 'Offal Month' in France.

Wednesday 28 November 2018

Mushroom Foraging

With the onset of a bit of rain and cold, mushroom foraging season has started in France. Many people restrict themselves to the Bolete family (ceps, porcini and relatives) because they are easy to recognise and it's difficult to make yourself sick with this family (and virtually impossible to kill yourself). There are a few species that will make you sick but in the Touraine they are very rare (I've only encountered one once) and they are so luridly coloured they are not appetizing at all. Several species are not toxic, but so bitter that you don't want to eat them anyway. A quick tongue test in the field will sort these out. Many species turn blue when cut. This is not an indication of toxicity -- in fact a couple of the species eaten regularly here turn a thoroughly unappetizing blue, through to black when cooked or dried. 

 A mushroom in the Boletaceae family (Suillus sp), 
showing the characteristic tubes and spongey pores underneath.

Boletes are a safe bet in the forest if you are foraging. Few are toxic and none are deadly. Just make sure your mushrooms have tubes and pores underneath, like this one, not gills. That is your diagnostic for ceps, porcinis and other boletes. (This one is actually a type of Slippery Jack Suillus sp, which I would recommend peeling, and in any case isn't a terribly interesting mushroom to eat -- but it clearly shows the tubes and the spongey layer of pores on the underside.)

The key to identifying Boletes is that they do not have gills (like a supermarket mushroom), they have tubes and pores. The pores form a spongey layer over the tubes under the cap. Other families of mushrooms have pores, but they don't have the tubes so until you get your eye in it is worth breaking your mushrooms to reveal the tubes, just to be sure. 

 A pair of mushroom foragers encountered in the forest recently.

If you have gathered some boletes and are still worried about eating them I suggest drying them. You can completely dry them and store them in a jar for later reconstitution, or slice them and lay them out to dry over night. Then cook them hard for a couple of minutes, tip off the liquid they release, then continue cooking for a couple more minutes. Either of these methods will remove possible toxins. Do not eat wild mushrooms more than once a week, as many species are bioaccumulators and you may find you are consuming radioactive or heavy metal elements in unwise quantities.

Tuesday 27 November 2018

A Walk From Chaumussay

On the afternoon of Thursday 22 November we joined our local walking group for 10 kilometres of walking on the white roads around Chaumussay. The day did not start out with promise. Thursday morning is market day in Preuilly and it was cold, grey and wet. Miraculously, after lunch it warmed up and the sun came out, just in time for our walk. Here are some pictures:

Coming in to the hamlet of Viaullières...

...where we roused a friend.

Some strong red bramble leaves.

The village in the distance is Preuilly sur Claise.

We passed one of my butterfly transects.

A semi-troglodytic shed.

Looking up the Claise Valley. I am sorry to see the tractor -- this field used to be pasture.

The little village of Chaumussay, tucked down in the Claise Valley.


Tuesday's Training Tales.
Talking of walking - last week we covered 17km, and because we were away from home for 2 days we managed to get to the pool in Tours for 1,000 metres of swimming. The swimming was particulary entertaining as the water temperature was over 26°C whilst the air temperature was about 1°C, and the pool appeared to be steaming in the dark. Way cool!

Monday 26 November 2018

Oatmeal Hazelnut Cookies

In my quest to find uses for La Berrinoise Praliné Noisette, a locally manufactured hazelnut butter, I came across a biscuit recipe in Simply Recipes that looked the business.

Measuring out the dough.

As well as substituting the hazelnut butter for the almond butter in the recipe I used a total of 1.5 cups of plain flour and 1 cup of wholemeal. The flour came from a local mill and is unbleached. I didn't have any wheatgerm so I just substituted wholemeal flour. I didn't have any chocolate chips but I did have half a jar of cacao nibs so I used them.

Ready for the oven.

The dough was very stiff and made 29 cookies using a quarter cup measure. The end result was rather shortbread like in texture.

Sunday 25 November 2018

Pelican Gathering

The Australian Pelican Pelecanus conspicillatus is abundant around where Simon's father lives. This large group is gathered on a sand spit at Woy Woy. Apparently Australian Pelicans have the longest bill of any living bird -- 50 cm in an adult male. They will scoop up all sorts of things in their huge pale pink bill, and luckily, are rather fond of problematic introduced species of fish such as European Carp and European Perch. Here at Woy Woy they are making a living in coastal salt water, but they are just as happy in large fresh water bodies well inland from the coast.

Saturday 24 November 2018

Alpine Bistort

Alpine Bistort Polygonum viviparum (syn Persicaria vivipara) is abundant across the high Alps of southern Switzerland, and indeed throughout the Northern Hemisphere Alpine and Arctic habitats. It is easy to identify, with its dense tuft of white flowers above a collection of reddish bulbils along the flower stem. Generally not producing viable seeds, these bulbils are how the plant propagates itself. Ptarmigan and reindeer apparently love them and they are full of energy giving starch. The plants are very slow growing, with flowers taking several years to develop from buds to open blooms.

Friday 23 November 2018

The School Bus

 The school bus drops off a little kid in the small village of Chaumussay.

The school bus service in our area is run by the Centre-Val de Loire regional bus service Rémi. They transport 15 000 pupils every day. Parents have to register their children with the service by July before the scolastic year, which costs €25. If they are late they will be charged an extra €10. The children are issued with a carte de transport (transport card) with their photo on it and their daily journeys are free. Children must live more than 3 km from the school to be eligible to be picked up at home, dropped off at school, and returned in the afternoon. The school day starts at 8:45 am and finishes at 4:15 pm. The school bus service is provided in order that children in small communities where the schools have closed, or low income households, or isolated rural communities all have an equal chance of attending school as any other child in the country. 

Thursday 22 November 2018

It's an Ostrich!

We were recently at the Domaine de Candé, one of our favorite chateau. They have had a temporary exhibition of some of the furniture from Wallace Simpson's Paris apartment, which was interesting, but did rather break up the spaces.


One of the items I particularly liked was this candelabra (one of a pair) that I assumed was a heron holding a stick or a piece of weed in it's mouth. On getting home I realise it's an ostrich. Apparently Suan wasn't fooled.

Wednesday 21 November 2018

It's the Pompiers

On Saturday afternoon there was a knock on the door, which I opened to find two young pompiers looking hopeful.

Yup - it's that time of year when we are inundated with calendar sellers, some of whom we really support, and some of whom we kinda tolerate. The pompiers definitely fall into the former category, being an extremely important voluneteer organisation.

This years calendar isn't only dates, it has games and stuff. Often some of the other calendars (particularly the Post Office's) try to cram an encyclopedia's worth of information onto the 12 pages in microscopically small type, but the pompiers calendar this year is useable. Bravo!

I'm saving this for Christmas Day.

I love this photo (which I took on 11 November this year) of our Pompiers looking purposeful.


I'm getting really bad at remembering Tuesday's Training Tales, so I am going to attempt Wednesday's Workout Report. (Doesn't really work, unless you do it in an Elmer Fudd voice.)

Last week we walked a bit but didn't do any swimming. 17km of walking, all at moderate pace. Now we can walk, we're trying to slow it down, because we won't be galloping over the alps.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Hi-Viz Vests

Over the weekend France erupted into national protests over increases in the tax on fuel. Part of the tax is an increase on the already existing carbon tax on petrol and diesel. The other increase is specifically on diesel, designed to bring it up to the same price as petrol and to wean people off diesel vehicles. It is bitterly resented by many people because not only is it an increase in the cost of living, but up until recently we were all being encouraged to drive diesel. These taxes represent 60% of the price you pay at the bowser. Overall the fuel taxes are used to fund environmentally friendly projects and the transition to greener technologies. Research shows that carbon taxes work, at least from the point of view of reducing consumption of non-renewables such as fossil fuels, so it is an obvious and responsible policy for the government to be pursuing.

The new tax is also being used metaphorically by protesters as a cudgel to beat President Macron. It has become a symbol of a myriad of little discontents and distrust of Macron. Many people find him too monarchical and too closely allied to the bankers. Doubtless, when the smoke from the burning tyres on the blockades clears, we will learn that this civil unrest is being stirred up and manipulated by an unholy alliance of the Far Right and the Far Left -- our old friends Le Pen and Mélenchon, with Asselineau and Wauquiez cheering in the background.

The extent of the protests encountered by me personally.

Consequently, around 125 000 protesters at a thousand locations across France put on their gilets jaunes (hi-viz vests) and blockaded strategic routes on Saturday. They caused considerable distruption and annoyed a great many motorists. Lots of people stayed at home because the protests were widely advertised beforehand, but not everyone can put off a journey or take a different route.

Their tactics were to choose a main road with a pedestrian crossing, which they took turns to stroll across. Cars were allowed through at intervals of one every few minutes and only after the drivers had been strong armed into signing the petition against the fuel price increases. They have been widely reported as behaving aggressively and threateningly, repeatedly banging on cars in a way that thoroughly unnerved the occupants.

To my horror, a protester was run over and killed by a frightened motorist in Savoie, and a couple of hundred others were injured in similar circumstances. The protesters had no qualms about burning tyres and inconveniencing the driving public (who, logically, you would have thought they would want on their side...) It seems to me they just wanted an opportunity to express more general dissatisfaction, discontent and frustration and that the fuel tax is just an excuse.

Personally, as someone who lives in a rural area, exposed on a daily basis to an invisible toxic fog of diesel fumes and ammonia from uncomposted muck spread on the fields, I'm glad of government policy that steers people away from diesel and offers positive incentives for buying an electric vehicle.

The Gilets jaunes take their name from the hi-viz vest that all motorists in France are obliged to carry. I'm pleased to see that there is a burgeoning Gilet vert (green vest) movement, with a thoroughly sensible, if idealistically optimistic, manifesto. They say:

  • develop public transport and make it free.
  • re-open branch train lines.
  • forbid all new fossil fuel extraction.
  • moratorium on new highway and airport projects.
  • tax on products transported by air or sea.
  • development of cycle paths.
  • development of low food miles and short trade routes.
  • development of new economic activities and public services in town centres, inner city and rural areas.
  • recover the millions that are transferred to tax and financial havens in order to fund this social and ecological transition. 
The protesters like to claim that the price of fuel in France is amongst the highest in Europe. It's true French fuel prices are above average, but they are by no means the dearest. That prize goes to Italy and Sweden, and five other countries are dearer than France. Luxembourg and Spain are the cheapest.

The protesters like to claim that the level of tax on fuel is too high in France. They should try living in the Netherlands, the UK, Greece or Finland, all of whom have higher taxes on fuel. In fact everywhere in Europe, apart from Bulgaria, the tax component of the price at the pumps is more than 50%.

The protesters like to claim that fuel forms too big a percentage of their annual budget. France is ninth on the list of the 28 countries in the European Union in terms of percentage of income spent on fuel. French wages are much higher than in Eastern Europe, so even though fuel prices are less there, a Bulgarian, Romanian or a Hungarian on an average income can afford a quarter of the fuel that an averagely paid French person can.

In our area, 400 people blocked the bypass at Loches, causing SuperU to close up shop for the day and people to avoid the market. No one was hurt, but there was a close call. A dozen people gathered in Le Grand Pressigny but that's as close as it got to us (ie the neighbouring small town). Overall 1500 people were out on the streets in Indre et Loire.

Last time we visited the pumps we paid €1.498 a litre for petrol and €1.437 for diesel. On 1 January 2019 the price of fuel will go up by 6.5 centimes a litre for diesel and 2.9 centimes for petrol.

Macron has largely ignored the protests, or at least, commented very little. Initially he called on the country to 'respect the anger' of the protesters and avoid travelling on the day of protest. Since then I don't think he has personally commented in public at all. His approval rating has dropped to 25%, his lowest ever, and the Prime Minister Edouard Philippe has also dropped, to 34% popularity. According to Le Figaro 74% of French people supported the Gilets jaunes movement on the eve of the protests.

The protests continued in some areas through to Monday.

Monday 19 November 2018

Hazelnut Cream

This is one of the simplest desserts you can make. You will need a jar of nut butter (I used La Berrinoise Praliné Noisette) and some thick cream or cream cheese (I used fromage frais battu from my local dairy, but you could use mascarpone). If you use cream whip it, then mix the nut butter with the cream or cream cheese. Serve it in glasses, decorated with a thin sweet biscuit (these are tuiles au caramel de Chambord).

Sunday 18 November 2018

Saturday 17 November 2018

Madrisa Land

The Madrisa is a mountain in the Rätikon mountain range overlooking Klosters. Its summit (2,826 metres) is located near the Austrian border. The Gondola departs from Klosters-Dorf to an altitude of 1,887 metres, and you can hike from there to the top of the Alp, which takes about 3 hours. We didnt.

The Gondola departing Klosters-dorf

Once you get to the top of the mountain you have a choice of paths to walk, as well as a couple of restaurant complexes and a huge childrens adventure playground. We discovered that it is as well to carry cash (Swiss Francs, of course) as they dont have credit card facilities. This meant we could LOOK at the beer, but not sample any.

Looking back towards Klosters

Madrisa Land is a childrens' paradise

We enjoyed Madrisa so much we went there twice, once with JB and Rosie, and once with Dad. The second time Dad sat and enjoyed the view, while Susan and I went for a little wander in an upwards direction. Not far, mind you - even at that altitude you notice the lack of oxygen. We didn't participate in any of the activities - either hiring bikes to roll down the hill, or (even more scarily) off road scooters.

Looking towards the Madrisa.
Yes, that's an alpine pig-sty in the foreground

Next year, maybe...

Friday 16 November 2018

Autumn Near Paulmy

We went for our "weekly, but not when we're working" randonnée yesterday. The weather was just about perfect for autumn, and the colours showed up beautifully in the bright sunshine.

La Chatelier from across the fields

Oak trees showing some colour

We haven't seen this crossroads cross before

We arrived back at the cars at sunset

Wednesday 14 November 2018

Cheesy Chardy Tractors

Not far from us, near Chatellerault, there is a wheat farm. The couple who run the farm make pasta out of their wheat, which I buy often. It is excellent. I especially like the tractor shape, which is perfect for making macaroni cheese.

Little pasta tractors.

I also frequently buy chard, either from the Aged One or the Jardins Vergers organic market gardeners who come to the market in Preuilly. 

Chard (aka silver beet) growing in the Aged One's orchard.

When one of our English friends delivers a block or two of cheddar I have a trio of ingredients that go perfectly together and I can make cheesy chardy tractors.

The Aged One with a bunch of chard for me.

The recipe I use is on Simply Recipes.

Two individual servings for the freezer.