SHAKSHUKA!

Shakshuka may look like a well-wish after someone sneezes, but it doesn’t mean “Zay Gezunt”. Far from it, it means a mixture of things tossed together. As such, it’s a North African dish, sometimes spelled the Frenchy way as Shakshouka. Shakshuka seems to be one of those recipes that are based on a small number of key ingredients, but the execution differs slightly from region to region and even from family to family. According to Wiki, the dish originated in Tunisia – or possibly the Ottoman Empire, or possibly Yemen. We do know that it is a popular dish all across the Arab world and especially in Israel. It may be served either as breakfast or as dinner, often with bread to sop up the juices.

My cousin Andreas recently published a shakshuka recipe on Facebook that he gleaned from the Student Nutrition Association of Bastyr University in Seattle, WA, USA, published in 2016. The recipe had been adopted by Alyssa Siegel and it looked nice and easy. Andreas’ maternal grandfather was Tunisian so it would be very special to think his grandpa dipped his chunk of bread in a shakshuka that his mother prepared. On the other hand, his grandfather grew up quite privileged so his mom may not have cooked the family shakshuka herself ☺️

Either way, I cooked my version last Sunday. I do have to say ‘my version’ because I omitted the main protein providing ingredient, the eggs. Instead, I prepared a duck breast we happened to have in the fridge. Therefore, my Shakshuka was more a Shakshoucanard. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any cayenne pepper in the house, so I substituted the cayenne with piment d’Espelelette, the Basque chili pepper used in the South of France. And to addle things even further, I added garlic, lemon juice, and coriander seeds to the list of flavorings. My lineup of ingredients looked like this:

Fresh ingredients

  • 2 medium onion, halved then sliced very thinly
  • 3 very large garlic cloves, peeled, crushed & diced
  • 1 large red sweet pepper, seeds & white ribs removed, sliced
  • a heap of spinach, stalks & mid-ribs removed, torn into pieces, washed, spin-dried
  • juice of 1 small lemon

cooked separately: 1 boneless duck breast with skin, 410 g or 14.5 oz

Processed ingredients

  • 2 Tbs olive oil
  • 400 g/14 oz [drained net weight] of canned, peeled whole tomatoes, juices reserved
  • 2 tsp honey
  • ‘Maille’ Velours Balsamique, a very thick balsamic vinegar syrup
  • Confit d’oignons [onion jam]

Seasonings

  • salt to taste
  • 1 heaped teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon crushed cumin seeds
  • 1 heaped teaspoon smoked paprika powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon powdered piment d’Espelette chili pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon powder

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After slicing, dicing, draining and washing my ingredients, I had to dash to the window for a quick shot across the river because it was the last evening of the season with twinkling Christmas lights and the early evening atmosphere was altogether too eerie to pass up.

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Back in the kitchen, it was time to gently toast the coriander and the cumin seeds in a dry pan to release their aromas.

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Coriander develops a warm, citrusy bouquet, while cumin adds a darker, more earthy scent. Once you can smell the heated seeds, add the oil to create a fragrant bath,

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not for the enjoyment of the Queen of Sheba, but in which to sauté the onions.

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Sautéing onions takes patience and very low temperatures, lest they burn. The same wisdom applies to garlic, added next.

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Followed by the red peppers.

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This melange should be slightly softened before the distribution of aromatic powders, the paprika, piment d’Espelette, the cinnamon, and some salt.

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After the spices have had a chance to heat up and distribute their flavors through the vegetables, it’s time to let the tomatoes join the fun.

Whilst these guys got to know each other, I had the leisure to crisp the scored duck skin at a low-medium setting in a dry pan. The rendered fat was collected into a small jar for other uses.

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Now the spinach needed to be added to the shakshoucanard, to wilt quietly while the duck breast browned in the oven.

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Just before serving, I added the juice of half a small lemon to the stew and had more lemon juice at the table, together with the confit d’oignons and the balsamic velours.

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Slices of roasted duck breast over radicchio with shakshoucanard on the side …

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… enhanced with some Velours Balsamique, lemon juice, and confit d’oignons.

Lessons learned:

  • Buy cayenne pepper! The shakshoucanard was not spicy enough. I actually had harissa paste in the fridge but didn’t think of it at the time. This mild version was a tasty companion for the duck, however, I would prefer a lot more oomph preparing it with eggs, as it is intended.
  • Make at least twice the amount listed. We had pathetically few leftovers and this dish is perfect to freeze in portions before you add the lemon juice.

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Flavorful and tasty, I highly recommend this dish. Thanks, cuz!!

 

 

 

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Our 40th Anniversary

In France, an anniversary, true to its linguistic roots, means an annual celebration independent of the nature of the event. Therefore, our anniversary would be called an “anniversaire de mariage” or Hochzeitstag, if you prefer.

For the past few years, we’ve made a point of celebrating our wedding anniversary with a meal in a Michelin starred restaurant. Since this year’s anniversary was definitely a biggy, signifying that we had been together since the dark ages, a two-star restaurant was in order, don’t you agree?

The husband did all the research to find just the right place for this year’s jubilee. Our wedding date of December 28th, however, posed a challenge in his selection process because many French restaurants are closed from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve or Saint-Sylvestre which is a huge night out for French adults after the largely family-oriented celebration of noël. Most restaurants in our town, for example, close for a few days for family time and in preparation for their extravagant St-Sylvestre menus, reservations only [well in advance], often with live music and dancing. But my guy is an accomplished internet researcher, and he found just the place for our very own special night out.

A serious concern, however, was the upper respiratory infection I contracted mid-December. Although I felt much better by Christmas, we were holding our collective breaths waiting if Barry would get sick also. Additionally, our heating crashed on us twice in the span of three days during Christmas week, so that we had to deal with 14ºC/57ºF in the house, not too much fun for someone with bronchitis. Fortunately, Barry didn’t get sick, the boiler was repaired and we happily packed our bags for an overnight in La Rochelle. We stayed at the Chambres d’Hôtes Eden Ouest, a B&B in the center of town. In this charmingly restored 1745 townhouse, in which we occupied a large bedroom with a comfortable bed and a huge ensuite bathroom sporting not only a wooden tub from Austria but also the most delightful steam shower. Fabulous treats for these old bones!

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In the evening, we took a cab to the restaurant since it was a rainy side, arriving at the appointed hour at the Christopher Coutanceau for a remarkable experience in fine dining.

Once we were settled at our table, we could take in our surroundings and enjoy the ambiance of the contemporary space. “Wave action” wall designs and intricate lighting systems highlighted the restaurant’s coastal location and the chef’s grounding in all things pertaining to the sea.

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While we sipped our half-bottle of Bollinger special cuvée Champagne with the amuse-gueules, we studied the menu and dove with great anticipation into the unfolding drama of a performance designed, it seemed, uniquely for us.

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We discussed our options and choices comparing the menus presented to us in two different languages. It was pretty funny to read how certain foods or preparations were worded in either French or English. Another, equally important decision related to the wine selection. After consulting the sommelier, we selected a bottle of Côte de Beaune, a southern Bourgogne Chardonnay, an aromatic wine of character which we were assured would stand up well to the strong flavors of our seafood dishes, followed by a half-bottle of the Provençal Bandol AOC for the meat course. We enjoyed Bandol Rosé all through the summer months and were curious about the red Bandol, with its four grape varieties of Mourvèdre, Grenache, Cinsault, and a smidgen of Carignan. Both wine selections turned out to be delicious.

Our first course was a type of seafood which, as highly praised as it is in Asturia and Galicia, we had never tasted before. Gooseneck barnacles.

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Granted, pretty they are not, but they are tasty, particularly in this preparation. There is a funny story in Wikipedia telling about the origin of the barnacle’s common name. Goose or Gooseneck barnacles are sessile crustaceans in the Order Pedunculata living on driftwood, rocks, boat hulls, whales, and so forth. The well-known cleric and historian Gerald of Wales [1146 – 1223 more or less], living during an age when the avian habit of seasonal migration was not yet widely known, postulated that the brant goose [Branta leucopsis, Anatidae] derived from barnacles because no-one had hitherto seen these geese hatch in the British Isles. This unfounded wisdom found its way into common lore so that to this day the bird is called barnacle goose and the crustacean goose barnacle. Nonetheless, there was one medieval detractor of the cleric’s hypothesis, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II [1194 – 1250]. The emperor dissected innumerable barnacles and never once found a goose embryo within. Not surprisingly, being the scientifically minded scholar he was, he declared the goose-from-barnacle story balderdash. It is not known if he ever ate a goose barnacle. I’m sure you understand, why this biologist emerita regards Frederic II as her favorite emperor.

We were a whole lot more familiar with the seafood served subsequently, featuring two different preparations of Coquilles St-Jacques or scallops, lobster, and John Dory. Without any doubt, the star of our first scallop dish was the highly prized seasoning called a truffle.

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Our plates arrived displaying a circle of sliced scallop carpaccio, decorated with little dots of truffle essence. The white-gloved Master of Truffles then shaved a generous amount of truffle, burying the delicate scallop slices under the fragrant aroma of winter truffles.

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After the truffle shaving action, our waiters poured some more truffle essence in a circular motion around the scallop and truffle arrangement.

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Comparatively speaking, the second scallop dish lacked preparatory drama – but certainly not any flavor! Seared diver’s scallops are among my most favorite foods.

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Drama returned in full force with the presentation of our next plate, presented to us in concert by two waiters like a synchronized water ballet performance.

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Without a doubt, this was the unbearable lightness of being lobster. May Kundera forgive me for borrowing his and Nietzsche’s theme, but this dish had the flavorful weightiness and density in texture, as well as a delicate lightness in the form of a foamy, enveloping cloud pulling together the sublime arrangement of textures and aromas upon which this dish depends and these gentlemen expounded so eloquently – if not necessarily in regard to food.

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The four bottles we consumed, champagne, white, red and bubbly water

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Even the bread service turned into a performance. A waiter came around with a pushcart laden with baked goods. There were individual buns in a variety of flavors and loaves of yeasty, crusty creations fresh from the oven. The Bread cart was followed by the butter maid – actually it was a guy, but, heck – offering a choice of sweet butter, demi-sel, or salted, plus a selection of herbed butter.

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And speaking of salt, this was the salt cellar on our table. I had to ask what it was because its function was not readily apparent. At first, I thought it was just a tchotchke, but the iridescent globe hid an indentation with a small opening in its bottom through which the salt was dispensed as you shake the pretty glass bowl. Clever!

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John Dory with a roasted octopus arm, an artichoke, and a squid-ink noodle thingy.

After the fish courses, we switched to the Bandol to accompany the meat course, venison from the Alsace region. The deer meat had been marinated in red wine for 24 hrs and was rich and tender.

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Venison backstrap in quince and hazelnut reduction, chestnut and crosnes sides

Of course, the venison, being a typical winter dish, was enhanced with the ultimate winter flavor, truffle.

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This venison dish was not just flavorful and tender, but also reminiscent of our years on El Rancho Leon in Central Texas. Living in the heart of Texas for ten years, we never consumed store-bought meat. We only ate what our land provided. Since I didn’t trust my markswoman’s skill beyond rattlesnakes and feral pigs, we asked our bow-hunting friend and neighbor to harvest deer for us, splitting the meat between our families. Even though quite frankly, there is nothing tastier than Axis [Axis axis] backstrap, this was darn good!

We concluded our meal with a succession of desserts, beginning with the most beautiful little caramelly concoction. It was a Caramel and Cognac sorbet with Jonchée [local Saintonge “Quark” or fromage blanc]. You see jonchée in market stall around Saintes, so I was familiar with this fresh cheese specialty, albeit not in this unique transformation!

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The creamy-rich caramel sorbet was followed by a thyme flavored lemony lemon sorbet with a crackling lemon shell.

 

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Oh, my!

After more than three hours of indulgence and debauchery, we eschewed a taxi, bravely walking back to the hotel through the gentle mist of the late December night.

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With rain-soaked hair and moisture-dripping glasses, it is no wonder that this good-night selfie turned out a bit fuzzy 😎

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Toward Year’s End …

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It is customary to reflect on the past, sometimes with regret or even remorse as a year comes to its designated end and a new one commences while we either sleep or drink champagne. Thus we either ignore the arrival of the new year in our timezone, or we celebrate it as if we achieved a goal. And maybe we have, simply by surviving yet another one! As the new year approaches, some people attempt to catalog their wishes and dreams for themselves, only to discarded these aspirations within the next few weeks. I am, however, neither a philosopher nor a dreamer, just a realist who has never written a list of resolutions. I gladly leave such endeavors to proper thinkers.

I am simply happy that I feel better after a rather unpleasant upper respiratory infection which restricted the lighting of our Hanukkah candles this year to a grand total of twice. We lit the first candle, but then I wasn’t upright again till the last night of Hanukkah.

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Above all, I am happy that my husband and I are both in a reasonably healthy condition, that we enjoy our life together despite our creaky joints and all those physical nuisances which assume hallmark status on our way toward Really Old Age. Come to think of it, it’s not only the physical issues, the mental lapses clearly, or rather foggily, become unpleasantly numerous as well. That dastardly word that’s on the tip of your tongue, but you can’t quite spit it out. Yet, for the time being, we can still help each other out with a choice of vocabulary options.

That said, we are anticipating major lifestyle changes for the year 2018. We shall attempt to domesticate ourselves. We have tried that once before when we moved to our ranch in Central Texas and it didn’t work out. We loved traveling far, wide and beyond too much to remain home. Nevertheless, we shall once more endeavor to settle down and, glorious novelty, stay put at home.

We are serious about outfitting our new home in Cognac, Charente, France, to include guest space for visiting family and friends. We are serious about adding two dogs to the family and we are committed to undertaking only short-range train or car travel. We are already anticipating the visit of dear friends in June and in July, crossing fingers, our kids will bring Izzy, the apple of our grand-parental eyes, over from Austin, Texas, for a nice, long European vacation. It will be new and different and exciting for us.

Meanwhile, still in Saintes, we’ve pulled out our 30-plus-years old Marimekko Christmas placemats, enjoying a Christmas Eve dinner and getting started on that year-end Champagne. We wish you all a wonderful and warm Christmas Season and the Best for the New Year. As a little year-end puzzle, I hope you will tell me the reason why I wrote the year 2018 upside down into Julie’s wreath in the picture above? Looking forward to your guesses!!

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Barry had to purchase a Bûche de Noël for us this year because I wasn’t up to baking my usual bûche. Next year, we’ll have my version again!

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Before we bid goodbye to this year, I want to tell you a little anecdote about my dad. In the Fall of 1977, Barry and I drove across Germany to Kiel, to introduce my brand-new fiancé to my parents. They hosted a family dinner in our honor culminating in a Schnaps-drinking lesson for the son-in-law-in-spe. My father’s favorite Schnaps was Aalborg Akvavit, a caraway-flavored liquor. In northern Germany, it is customary to drink combinations of beer and liquor, which differ regionally. In my father’s hometown of Hannover, something called Lüttje Lage is the way guys drink their brandy with the local beer. Later in his life, our father’s liquor preference moved a little further North, all the way to Denmark where Akvavit is distilled. After our dinner, he initiated Barry into the secrets of this viscous, sharp-flavored Northern spirit. For my father’s seaburial in May of 1994, I brought aboard a bottle of the most exquisite Akvavit I could find in Hamburg and we all got completely smashed in his honor. It was a true Viking Burial! Ever since Barry and I drink an Akvavit toast to my father’s memory on his birthday, the 25th of December.

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[Since neither of us actually likes the taste of Akvavit, the bottle stays safely stored in the freezer for the rest of the year!]

SweetPotatoSoup with a Secret Ingredient

Since it’s a little cooler this weekend, it’s definitely soup time again. As a means of recalling which combination of veggies, mostly, I’ve used to make this soup, I’ll just string some pictures in the sequence of use, adding a comment here or there.

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The sweet potatoes were Honduran, while all the other veggies, as well as the bacon, were French-born.

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Here we have the line-up of ingredients and the prep waste. Clockwise from top left: leeks and the thick ends of the carrots, some elderly potatoes, and the sweet potatoes [in cold water], olive oil, carrots and cubed celery root, garbage in a bio-degradable pseudo-plastic bag [merchants are no longer allowed to use actual plastic bags in our community. We don’t have a garden, so we can’t compost], bacon, seasonings, chopped garlic, and chopped onion.

The bacon is the first candidate to jump into the hot olive oil, closely followed by onions and garlic to be gently sautéed.

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Next up are the celery and carrot pieces to be browned for a little while with the onion base, before I turn up the heat just so that I can dampen it with a splash of red Bordeaux, scraping up any brown bits, stirring vigorously before turning down the heat again. Now it’s time to add the secret ingredient I prepared earlier, Haricot Tarbais, white runner beans from Tarbes, Hautes-Pyrénées. This is the type of bean I usually use for my cassoulet.

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Truth be told, these particular beans were leftovers from the 2016 harvest and I’ve used them a few time as weights to “blind-bake” dough. Nevertheless, they are Tarbais beans and as such, even pre-owned, cook to a perfect al dente and are exceptionally flavorful.

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All that’s left to do now is adding the remaining fresh ingredients, the seasoning, and water.

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Maille brand balsamic vinegar syrup adds sweetness

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I’m lazy, so commercial bouillon work just fine for me

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In addition to freshly grated nutmeg, I used ground coriander seeds and powdered ginger

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Water as needed, about 750 ml

And 30 – 45 minutes later, we’re ready to slurp!

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Ingredients:

  • 100 g of poitrine fumée [smoked pork belly], diced
  • 2 skinny leeks, sliced into 2 to 3 cm rings, white and light green parts only
  • 4 carrots, cut into triangular pieces
  • half a celery root, peeled, brown parts cut off then roughly diced
  • a few peeled potatoes, cut into bite-sized chunks
  • ditto for sweet potatoes
  • 3 large, fresh cloves of garlic – not the dried out Chinese crap!
  • 2 small yellow onion, diced, more is great
  • 1 cube of court-bouillon, 1 unit of chicken bouillon [if I were in the US, I would use a quart of chicken broth instead. I loved the convenience of broth in handy tetra packs. Unfortunately, they’re not available here]
  • nutmeg, ground coriander seeds, powdered ginger [or fresh, of course], salt if desired
  • a little red wine, a little Velours Balsamique [thick syrup of balsamic vinegar]
  • enough hot water to comfortably cook the veggies at hand

Note to self: next time, double the amount of sweet potato and use goose fat instead of olive oil.

 

Poitiers with Dogs and Manifestations

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Recently we drove to Poitiers for a dog-themed weekend, specifically to attend a Friday/Saturday/Sunday dog show held at the arena of the Parc des Expositions de Poitiers. Since we are getting ready to move into our peaceful retirement home in Cognac by the end of the year, we need to make a decision with which type of companions we want to share our lives there. Our garden will be small and we have developed some issues typical for the elderly, including but not limited to concerns of mobility with a decided loss of youthful exuberance, especially early in the mornings. Therefore our beloved Kangal dogs and Beaucerons will no longer be a viable option for us. In the past, we’ve also lived with Bouvier des Flandres dogs which would be lovely to have around again if it were not for their very high grooming requirements. As it is, we need to educate ourselves as to what’s out there in the realm of low-maintenance, low energy, yet reasonably sized canines. We are considering adopting slightly older dogs as well, but only if the dog’s past is well documented.

On Friday morning we embarked on our factfinding mission to Poitiers, which is about an hour and a half’s drive to the North of Saintes. We stopped at our hotel in the historical town center first to get rid of our luggage. The Hôtel Mercure is located in a former church building and turned out to be utterly charming.

Our room extended over two stories with the bed upstairs on the mezzanine level. There were arches, cut stone, voluptuous curtains, and romantic views over slate roofs and chimney pots.

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The main body of the restaurant, as seen from one of the breakfast alcoves

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Another look at the mesmerizing hallway running alongside the restaurant “nave”

The Friday afternoon confirmation event, the Séance de Confirmation, was organized by the regional club, the Association Canine Territoriale du Poitou, while the weekend’s Exposition Canine Internationale under the auspices of the FCI [Fédération Cynologique Internationale, the International Dog Federation] and the SCC [Société Centrale Canine, the French Kennel Club], included dogs from all ten breed groups, plus a number of breed specialties and agility and obedience events. Confirmation, the judging of individual dogs against their breed standard is done very differently in Europe versus American dog shows. It is much more exact in Europe, involving actual measuring sticks and a written evaluation of every dog presented to the judge. The judge will also explain her or his reasoning ad hoc to the handlers.

Friday afternoon we just wandered hither and fro through the arena, learning, observing and enjoying the doggy atmosphere. I fell into conversation with one of the exhibitors, a lady who spends most of her weekends at dog shows. She breeds rough-haired wiener dogs and shows them across the country and beyond. She was accompanied by her very pregnant daughter, who showed her Kai-ken. I had no idea what a Kai-ken is when it’s home, so I received a quick introduction to the medium-sized, short-legged Kai-ken or Tora Inu, Tiger dog, one of the six native Japanese spitz-type dogs. They are believed to have been introduced to Japan during the period of the Jomon people’s culture, thousands of years in the past. The brindled Kai dogs were specialized to hunt Kamoshika, a native mountain goat-antelope. All I can say, he was cute! I greatly enjoyed talking with this French woman of strength and grace. Her musician husband is currently traveling across his native land of Senegal in the pursuit of artistic fame and fortune, while she lives with her daughter and nine dogs [children 1 through 9], plus the imminent arrival of her grandson [child number ten] and her son-in-law [child number eleven] all told with a big smile. More than I ever could accomplish!

On Saturday we hit the expo floor running and dedicated the entire day to our breed research, except when we were sidetracked and smitten all over again by Beauceron babies like this one. How can you possibly resist these mega-paws and mischievous smiles?

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Or the power and presence of the adult version?

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1st Excellent RCACS, Intermediate class, Malko de la Noe du Jardin

A contender for breed preference were the Dutch Shepherds with their brindle coats and sharp appearance. I’m a sucker for brindle and the ever so vague impression of African hyenas. To clarify, not a resemblance but a fleeting hint of a pictorial memory.

Czech Wolfdogs were a surprise for me, as I had never seen them before. Gorgeous. I wonder if they should be in “show” situations, though. The poor fellow in the grandstands above us was stress-drooling even though he was far from the action.

Malinois are certainly beautiful creatures, but owing to their extremely high exercise needs, like the Dutch Shepherds, they are much too intense for our limited physical abilities.

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We rested for a while in the grandstands, surveying the proceedings from lofty heights. Right below us, the SPA [Société Protectrice des Animaux] did a brisk business with their raffle tickets, while the Briards, les Chiens Berger de Brie, were judged in the ring closest to us.

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We weren’t the only ones needing a bit of a break!

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Bearded Collie or Beardie

Rhodesian Ridgebacks might be a possibility for us. They are certainly short-coated and, according to one breeder, downright lazy. At least as adults, they don’t seem to need as much exercise as the herders.

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Walking around the vast arena, stopping here and there for a closer look, we saw a number of breeds of which we had never heard before, including these large, floppy-eared hunting dogs apparently indigenous to our area, the Saintonge.

The dogs in this kennel enclosure took every single one of the six “Best of” titles in the “Hounds hunting in packs” [Meute] category that Saturday. Chapeau, Monsieur Rouhet !

And speaking of packs, there was an obvious intruder hiding amongst these beagles 😁

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After the show on Friday and Saturday, we walked around Vieille Ville, the old quarters of Poitiers, enjoying the sights and sounds of a town which for a time during the 100-year war was the home of the Royal French government while Paris was in the hands of the Plantagenet. It was here in Poitiers that Jeanne [Jehanne] d’Arc, La Pucelle d’Orléans, was questioned by a panel of theologians on behalf of the Dauphin Charles to determine her veracity. In April of 1429, this learned Commission of Inquiry “declared her to be of irreproachable life, a good Christian, possessed of the virtues of humility, honesty, and simplicity” [Wikipedia]. From Poitiers, she went straight to besieged Orléans, where her presence and strategic advice facilitated the retreat of the English within days. One of the charges she faced two years later during her trial in Rouen, by the way, was cross-dressing. Her English accusers apparently preferred their female warriors to attend battlefields in frilly dresses.

This may have been the site where La Pucelle [the virgin] was vetted. It is, at least, the property where we found a 1929 plaque honoring the 500th anniversary of her presence in Poitiers.

Even older than the shenanigans of past difficulties between English and French royal ambitions is this beautiful parish church in the pedestrian zone of Old Town.

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Cure de Saint Porchaire

The foundation of St-Porchaire was laid in the IXth century, eventually acquiring its gorgeous Romanesque-style tower. The church is one of only a few churches in all of France with a [gothic, in this case] double-nave. One of the naves was used by parishioners and pilgrims, the other by resident monks. Next door in the presbytery local youths are invited to safely congregate for listening and talking.

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On the way to église Notre-Dame-la-Grande, down rue de la Regratterie, we were passed by a manifestation we had encountered earlier in Place Alphonse Lepetit.

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The large contingent of heavily armed national police and local flics seemed quite relaxed about the youthful demonstrators, as they were carrying their riot helmets in their hands rather than wearing them, while the protestors chanted about their discontent with Trump and capitalism with a capital C. Very civilized, all in all.

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The splendid façade of Notre-Dame-la-Grande

Cobbled lanes, embellished fronts, and artisanal wonders.

Pretty much every little French town has a bookstore dedicated to the long tradition of European comic-book culture. My late brother, a fluent French speaker, was an aficionado of the Belgian comic “Tintin” since boyhood. Still, 18 months after his death, passing by such displays, I want to tell him about my Tintin encounters, freezing inside all over again when I instantly realize, I no longer can.

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For my Canadian friends:

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Another time we witnessed a more cheerful and melodious manifestation in the streets of Poitiers, one whose participants were certainly fond of colorful stockings. We never did find out what it was all about …

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The Palais des Comtes de Poitou et Ducs d’Aquitaine. Aliénor slept here. She is better known internationally as Eleanor Duchess of Aquitaine [1122-1204], Queen of France [1137-1152, annulment], Queen of England [1154-1189].

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Now, however, it is high time we returned to the dog show pandemonium! Next up, the Akitas.

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Wait, those aren’t Akitas! Of course not, these are two lovely Scottish Deerhounds. Together with Irish Wolfhounds, I’ve always admired these swift giants.

In regard to the Akitas, there are American Akitas and Akita Inu. We wanted to take the opportunity to have a closer look at both Akita versions as potential companions for us. We met a breeder and successful exhibitor, Amandine Malordy, and her sisters who own the “Les Gardiens de la Cigogne” kennel quit near us in Charente-Maritime.

The larger American Akitas are beautiful and majestic animals with stunning coats and regal bearing. Nevertheless, I’m more strongly drawn to the Japanese Akitas.

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L’Makaho Go des Templiers Sacres, 1st Excellent, open males

We have a lot to discuss and evaluate, especially because we came across another breed we’re now seriously considering, the Berger de Picardie. Almost a small version of those rough-coated hounds, don’t you think?

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And while we mull it over, let’s indulge in Kangal images. What could be better?

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Father and son of the Elevage du Domaine du Bois Fidèle were showing together in the male puppy class.

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The puppy isn’t making it easy for the junior handler …

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ultimately doing a full somersault before …

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… melting into the red carpet like warm jello.

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But the brave handler of the boneless Kangal didn’t give up. He untangled the lead and shoving his arms like forklift bars beneath the dog’s torso, he lifted [!] the puppy up and placed him back on his paws. I have no picture of this courageous action because I was watching it with my mouth hanging open. Well done, unflappable young man!

Below you see the puppy class winner, bred by Guy Gauthier of Elevage Etoile d’Isis in the Dordogne.

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Star of Isis Neper Kangal, Meilleur Puppy

The majority of the Kangal dogs judged in Poitiers were bred by Amelle Autunes of The Legend of Kangal kennel.

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This is France, land of Style and Haute Couture, n’est-ce pas ? Even at a dog show 🙃

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L’Heimdall The Legend of Kangal, 1st Excellent RCACS

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#1095, Best of opposite sex, Excellent CACIB, J’Python The Legend of Kangal

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It is time to drive home, so let’s say goodbye to all those lovely dogs with one more sweet Kangal picture.

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Spontaneous​ Lunch

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On Friday the 13th, our weather was so gorgeous, so fabulous that a lunch excursion to La Tremblade was simply unavoidable. It takes about 45 minutes to drive to this seaside community forming the northern tip of the Gironde Estuary, where the waters of two mighty rivers, the Garonne and the Dordogne, spill into the Atlantic Ocean. Thus La Tromblade is bordered by the Estuary to the South, the Atlantic Ocean to the West and North, and the river La Seudre to the East. Along both banks of La Seudre, the coastal salt marshes are crisscrossed by a dense network of creeks and canals. This is one of the world’s foremost oyster farming area, where the La Seudre oyster parks merge with the Île d’Oléron-Marenne oyster farming basin, to form one of the best known ostreiculture regions of France!

For our lunch date, we drove along the La Tremblade canal to the restaurant Chez Gaby and settled on the terrace extending over the bank of the canal.

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While contemplating the menu, we noshed on warm razor clams, Enis arcuatus, in a buttery persillade. Followed by, respectively, an oyster and smoked salmon entrée.

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For our main course, we both chose the grilled fillet of Bar Sauvage, which in the Languedoc is called Loup de Mer, Seawolf, otherwise known as European Sea Bass, Dicentrarchus labrax, with its velouté vin blanc, risotto, and vegetables.

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At this point in the meal, we were already seriously overstuffed but dessert was still to come. Fortunately, service was very slow which made it possible to not only consume but survive a lovely slice of fresh fig tart.

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It wasn’t easy to walk off this two-hour lunch!! While we indulged, the outgoing tide exposed large patches of mud, stranding many vessels along the canal.

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Shadow-selfie with oyster shells

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Almost as if to deliberately contrast the mud left by nature, humans added many colorful accents along the canal, which is quite typical for all the regional oyster shacks and tourism facilities as well.

Here we have the same boot shown from three different angles.

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Eventually, the canal meets the river La Seudre, which in turn flows into the Atlantic Ocean in a protected bay formed to the South of the Île d’Oléron.

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Oyster farming country in the salt marshes

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The Charente river has had a busy tourist day, too!

 

Soup

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I haven’t cooked anything new and exciting for some time, except maybe that recent tomato tart that worked out so well for us the first time I baked it, but when I made it again for a party at our house, it turned out all soggy. Such is life! Nevertheless, I felt inspired to dice and slice last weekend, so I made some soup.

I invented a new fish soup, rather a vegetable soup with fish and, lucky us, it turned out quite tasty. Since my dear husband claims I can never repeat a dish, the proof of the pudding being my recent tart, I shall endeavor to record the making of this delectable little soup right here and now when the workings are still fresh in my mind – as far as that goes!

Firstly, you visit the market of a Saturday morn’ and purchase leeks and yellow onions, carrots, and fennel, also potatoes and rustic apples.  Then you meander over to the fishmongers in Les Halles where you buy dos de cabillaud which are very thick and juicy pieces of cod from the northern Atlantic. Oh, a Chinese cabbage landed in my pull cart as well before I headed back home.

Except for the cabbage, the potatoes, and the apples, I prepped the veggies ahead of time on Saturday. I cleaned, trimmed and chopped the vegetables into larger-than-bite-size pieces and stored them in ziplock bags in the fridge for the following day’s cooking. I like to separate my ingredients into their personal little baggies, that way I can line up everything according to the cooking sequence when the time comes:

Bacon bits – onion – leeks/fennel/carrots – potatoes – cabbage – apples – fish

An organized kitchen is half the battle! In the largest bag, I layered leeks, fennel, and carrots in that order, with the carrots on top. I’ll explain later why I like my carrots close to the zipper 😎

When it’s time to cook the soup, boil some water in your electric kettle and use 500 ml of boiling water to dissolve one cube of Court-Bouillon. Keep the rest of the water on standby if you need more fluids. Equally on standby should be a glass of dry white wine [in addition to the one you might be drinking while cooking the soup] and the juice of one-half of a large lemon.

In the spice department, I used salt, pepper – very little, freshly ground black pepper, ground coriander from a supermarket spice rack, ditto for ginger powder, freshly grated nutmeg, and a heaped teaspoon of crushed, dried marjoram. I’m incapable of cooking any savory dish without coriander and marjoram, it’s a personal choice as I love the bare hint of a Mediterranean citrus aroma they lend to a dish. Others might prefer to use tarragon with fish which I dislike. Sadly, I forgot to buy parsley. It should have been part of the soup.

As mentioned before, I like to have everything ready at hand, so I line up my bags, squeeze the lemon juice, pour the wine [both glasses], dissolve the court-bouillon, and marinate the fish before I fire up the largest gas ring on the cooktop. For the cod brine, I spread a little olive oil on a plate and sparingly grind some pepper over the oil, before placing the fish in the oil puddle. With a brush, I collect some of the oil and moisten the surface of the cod pieces with it, adding a little more oil as I go. Then I sprinkle ginger powder and grind some fresh nutmeg over the oily surfaces. In the picture, you can see that my piece of fish received a larger amount of spices than my husband’s who likes it better au natural. My piece is also a little thicker, but shorter, than his because he likes his fish a smidgen further “done” than I do. These pieces, by the way, weigh a little over 600 g total, so we had some leftover for another meal.

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In a large conic sauteuses, I heated some olive oil at medium and cooked the bacon bits. When they were starting to brown, I added the onions and slowly softened them in mid-low heat. At that point, I added the first installment from the leeks/fennel/carrots bag. Specifically all the carrots and a few stray leek and fennel pieces. I simply like to glaze the carrots with the onion and the bacon grease to give them a nice shine and bring out a more intense sweetness before adding the main portion of the veggies to the pot. Now you know why the carrots have to be closest to the zipper!

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Turning up the fire and stirring the vegetables and the bacon frequently, I let them soak up the heat till they glisten happily, about two minutes or so. That was the perfect time to douse the sizzle with the white wine, scrape up any brown bits and turn the heat back down to mid-low, before adding the remaining fennel and leeks, closely followed by the potatoes.

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I mixed the vegetables thoroughly before seasoning with salt, coriander, and marjoram. Then I poured the hot bouillon slowly over the veggies so that salt and spices distributed their flavors across all those cut surfaces. Turning the heat up a notch, I put a lid on the sauteuse and let the bouillon come to a brisk boil. Stirring once more I put the lid back on, before turning the heat down as low as it will go and allowed the soup to bubble contentedly for ten minutes.

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This interval is a good time to check your email, make a clandestine call to the boyfriend and open the wine you want to serve with your soup, in our case a lovely Terres Ocrées Bandol.

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Grape varieties: Cinsault noir – Garnacha negra – Mourvèdre

The last couple of steps are a repeat of the previous dance. First, I added the cabbage and

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let it shrivel a bit before mixing it in, then I added the apple chunks to my soup.

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When all the vegetables were in place, I put the lid back on and turned the heat to medium. Waiting a few moments to let the heat build up nicely under the dome of the lid, I removed it just long enough to gently, ever so gently, slide the two magnificent pieces of fish into the sauteuse. Quick, quick, on with that lid! Keeping the heat at medium to restore temperature, I then turned it down to the lowest setting.

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Did you hear the sigh of contentment as the fish soaked up all those lovely vegetable flavors?

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Our Happy Kitchen

Five minutes later, I took a peek to evaluate doneness. These were thick cuts of fish, so they needed a little longer under the dome. Before replacing the lid, I drizzled some lemon juice over the cod. After another minute, I turned the burner off and let the hot soup do its magic while I heated the plates and poured the wine. By then the fish had turned to opalesque whiteness and flaked easily. Perfect!

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The reddish trim on the fish was red onion confit, a welcome leftover from yesterday’s Sweet Potato & Red Onion Tart. But that’s another recipe ….

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Soup Ingredients:

  • 75 g of commercially packaged, pre-cut bacon bits [lardons fumés]
  • 2 large yellow onion, quartered, each quarter cut in 2 or 3 pieces
  • 3 medium-sized carrots, sliced thickly at an angle
  • 2 leeks, sliced into 3 – 4 cm pieces, excluding very dark green ends
  • 1 very large fennel, sliced [or a couple smaller ones]
  • 6 smallish, thin-skinned potatoes, halved or quartered, skin on
  • 3 apples [e.g. Reine de Reinette or Cox], cored, sliced thickly, skin on
  • Per person: 200g thick filets of cold-water fish [e.g. cod, haddock or hake]
  • 1 cube of Court-Bouillon dissolved in 500 ml of water
  • more water if needed
  • 150 ml of dry white wine
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • salt & spices at will