A Busy Start To Fall

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Somehow, the last week has just sped by.

We are letting a couple of friends stay in Mom’s old apartment, and one of them is going through some health issues. He is a general contractor by trade, but can’t really work at the moment because he needs a total hip replacement and until that is done, he’s in a lot of pain and really needs to stay in a place without a lot of stairs.

It works for us, because we found looking at Mom’s empty apartment incredibly sad, and I know she would like the idea of someone getting use out of it. Eventually, our friends will help us to fix up the apartment on the first floor so that that is livable as well. That’s not something we could afford to do on our own, so it’s a good deal for us all.

One of the problems that our friend, R, has, is that although he does speak enough French for conversation and work, medical and administrative French is a different kettle of fish. So we’ve also taken him under our wing to help with getting him situated with those things.

Thus, my week was taken up with medical visits. It’s interesting to see how the system works, especially when you are not the patient!

As with the U.S. And the UK, if you were self-employed and can’t work, you are pretty much screwed for collecting unemployment unless you had a special, private, disability insurance. Unfortunately, because the economic crisis in 2009 hit the construction industry hard, R had to declare bankruptcy in 2010 and, of course, cancelled his private insurance at the same time.

But, unlike in the U.S., this doesn’t mean no health care. In fact, all of his medical bills are being covered 100% by Social Security. He does not have to worry about dying in pain in the street or becoming homeless. Also, he is eligible for a small (and it is small) aid from the State that pays for food, and, if he wasn’t staying with us rent-free, he would also be able to get assistance to pay his rent. And, since there is always risk that results of a major operation won’t be what one hoped for, we were able to file forms for disability, which will take four to six months to be reviewed. Dawg willing, he will be fully recovered by then and won’t need more aid, but better to foresee all eventualities.

Not having to worry about things like that makes a difficult situation far more bearable. Sure, he has to go through the surgery and recovery, but at least he does it knowing that there will be no bills to pay afterward, and that once he is better, he can go back to working and creating a better life for himself, rather than spending the rest of his days burdened by a debt he will never be able to pay.

He has a surgery date for the beginning of December, to give him time to get various things taken care of, like all dental work. Hip replacements are VERY sensitive to bacterial infection, and active gum disease is a no-no. Poor R is terrified of dentists and hasn’t been to see one for ten years. This is very, very bad,and I think his upcoming dental care scares him way more than the hip surgery. Again, that will be covered by Social Security, so the only worry is pain, not bills.

Once the surgery is over, he’ll be able to come back to the apartment and, if he needs health aides, home health care workers will come to him, also covered by Social Security.

So, while nothing is ever perfect, this is certainly a far more humane system, and everyone, rich or poor, is entitled to health care when they need it. What a concept.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Baking Memories

Mini Corn Rye Rolls

People often ask me if there isn’t anything that I miss about the U.S. In the main, my answer is no. However, the few things that sometimes I DO get a hankering for are all food related.

Now, most things one can find through the various import stores. You may have to pay for them, but you can get them. Still, there are fresh things that just can’t be found.

A doctor once told me that his theory was that the foods you ate as a child had a resonance for you that new, “learned” foods would never have. And I think that for me there are several of those mostly things that come from the East Coast, where I grew up.

For example, I sometimes can almost taste a Taylor’s Pork Roll sandwich in my mind. The smell and taste of that will always be linked with childhood visits to the boardwalk in Atlantic City. Just writing about it I can taste it, smell it’s  odor mixed with that of fresh roasting peanuts from the Planter’s peanut store and the salt of the ocean. I can see my parents, the push chairs, the crowds, and once again I’m just a child.

I DO have a recipe for knock-off Pork Roll that I  plan to try later in the year, just to see if I can do it. But I have the strong feeling that it will never be the same.

But there are things that I CAN re-create successfully, and one of them is Jewish Deli Corn Rye. I have tried the recipe from “Secrets of a Jewish Baker,” and while that is successful, it’s also time consuming and needs to be planned out, as just making the sour takes several days. So, I wanted to create a recipe that was easy and above all, quick. I think I have succeeded.

Waiting for some lox

I suppose it seems silly to crave these things when I live practically next door to a bakery. But a French bakery, no matter how wonderful, will never be a Jewish Deli, and when that craving comes over you, the heart wants what the heart wants. So, here is what I do:

JEWISH DELI MINI-CORN RYE ROLLS

1 C rye flour

2 C white flour (I’ve used bread flour, all-purpose, a special pizza flour I get from Italy and a mixture of bread flour and something called semi-whole wheat. All have given good results)

1 1/4 C warm water (clearly, you may have to adjust this depending on the flour you use and weather conditions)

2T Olive Oil

2 tsp Sea Salt

1T sugar

2T Caraway seeds (if you hate caraway, leave them out, but I do think they are what “make” rye bread!)

1T lemon juice (this helps the yeast to work, but also I think it adds a small hint of sour without any taste of lemon in the final product)

1 pkg yeast

1 C leftover dough from last batch (this is optional, but over time, it builds the flavor and texture and eventually you have what is basically a sourdough starter and can leave out the yeast).

Cornmeal for sprinkling baking pan and top of bread

I mix this in my stand mixer. Because I’m lazy, I don’t proof the yeast. I put the rye flour in first, then sprinkle on the yeast, then add the rest of the flour. This lets me use water that is a bit hotter (from the tap, not microwaved) without killing the yeast. But if you want to proof the yeast the traditional way, go for it!

I toss in the rest of the dry ingredients and the leftover bread dough, including the caraway seeds, then pour in the oil, lemon juice and the water and start the mixer on slow. Once the majority of the flour is incorporated, I turn the speed up for kneading. I do keep an eye on it because the flour/liquid balance really needs adjusting as you work. Its amazing how a humid day or the batch of flour you use can affect the way the dough comes together.

Now, because of the rye flour, this is a sticky dough. I let the machine knead it until it mostly pulls away from the sides of the bowl and there is very little flour residue left. However, it never completely forms a tight ball the way a white bread will do. I always finish the kneading off by hand, and even once it is a ball, it remains a bit tacky. That’s okay.

I oil a bowl or a plastic container with a lid and throw the dough in there. One of the things I like about this recipe is that it’s very versatile. If I want to make the rolls quickly, I put the bowl (as long as it’s not metal!) into the microwave, set it at 350 watts and microwave for a minute, let the dough rest for about 5 minutes, than microwave at the same power for another minute. I leave the bowl in the microwave with the door closed, and let it rest for 20 minutes, and it has by then doubled and is ready for shaping and baking.

If, on the other hand, I don’t have time to bake it right away, I put the covered bowl in the fridge and leave it for several hours. This slows down the rising, and I have plenty of time to do other things without worrying about it.

Once it has risen, I take a chunk of dough that is 1/2 cup to 1 cup in size and put that in a reusable container with a lid. I chuck that into the fridge, but you can freeze it if you aren’t going to use it within the next few days.

The rest of the dough I separate into 8 pieces and form into rolls. I put them on a baking sheet lined with baking parchment that I’ve sprinkled with cornmeal. I like to roll the pieces in the cornmeal so that they have some on the top as well, because I think it gives them a nice, rustic appearance when they’ve baked.

I slice a cross into the tops then put them in 200 C (400 F) oven for 20 minutes.

You could also make this into a single, large loaf if you so desire; just adjust the baking time accordingly.

Ciao for now and Bon Appétit!

Randy

 

So Cool!

Did you mention food?

 

Not the weather, unfortunately, but a great new service available in the Possum Kingdom.

I have mentioned many times that there are days where I find the job of shopping for groceries outside of the village arduous, boring and time consuming. But, for the last few months, the SuperU in Mirepoix has  been advertising an online grocery service.

I’ve been tempted, but never got around to trying it. Now, they don’t deliver to us here in the Possum Kingdom, as we are too far away. But what they do offer is the equivalent of a personal shopper. You place your order with their website, pick a time when you want it to be ready and then go pick it up. The charge for this is 4 Euros, which is a bargain no matter how you look at it.

When  you get to the store, you go to the delivery bay and ring the bell. A very nice employee shows up, takes your name and brings all your groceries that have been nicely packed in boxes and then they even load them into your car! After that, it’s just a question of swiping your credit card and you’re done.

I never, ever shop on Saturdays. But I was out of almost everything, as it had been close to three weeks since I last went to do a big shopping trip. So I figured, what the heck, how awful could it be.

It wasn’t awful at all! It was brilliant! I even ordered a rosbif (that’s roast beef in French) and two kilos of figs, and they were all beautiful and perfect. The nice SuperU lady explained how she had looked for the farthest away “use by” dates on all the fresh things like milk and cheeses, and showed me that the one thing I had ordered that wasn’t in stock had been removed from the list and I wasn’t charged for it.

They threw in an insulated bag for the cold stuff and a second free, reusable shopping bag as a welcome gift, And, because it was my first order, I didn’t even get charged the 4 Euro fee. We had left the house at 2:30 and were back at the house with the groceries inside at 3:30! This has never happened before, since it takes 40 minutes just to get there and back.

Now, clearly, if there are special items that they have and which haven’t been added to the website,  you aren’t going to be aware of them. They don’t have EVERY item in the store online, although there is a place where you can ask for special things. So, I guess I will occasionally be going in to shop myself, but this has another huge benefit beyond the time saving: no impulse buying! If you don’t see it, you can’t buy it.

I have to admit that I am weak, and I am often tempted by things I see, even if I would never have considered buying them if I didn’t see them. So a system like this is ideal for me. It will undoubtedly save me money in the long run, because I will only purchase that which I know I need, not that which I merely want.

For you who live in big cities, this is nothing new, but for us out here in the Possum Kingdom, this is true progress and a service I plan to use in the future for sure.

Ciao for now.

Randy

My DINO

Don't bother me; I'm sleeping

 

I’ve taken the political term DINO and have decided it serves me well, as my furry friends are really Dogs In Name Only.

This has been brought home to me as I have been searching for a kennel where I can leave them for several days when JM and I head off to visit his parents in Toulon. Not having Mom around does now make it possible for me to go away, but only if we have a good solution for the dogs. I know that French hotels are more accommodating than American ones when it comes to pets, but asking any hotel to take two dogs the size of ours is really not possible.

We have a decent place in Roquefixade where we have left them in the past, but the problem is that Roquefixade is really not near anything. We are taking the train from Carcassonne, and in order to leave the dogs there, we would have to leave them two days ahead of time on Saturday, because the kennel is closed on Sunday and we wouldn’t have time to both go there AND make our train on Monday.

So, we decided to search closer to Limoux or Carcassonne. I discovered that there were actually several possibilities, but I didn’t have any personal recommendations and wasn’t about to make a reservation without checking into the facilities myself.

We visited the first one on Tuesday. If Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme had a “love child,” then this guy would be it. I swear that I have never met anyone less verbal or more scary in my life. Both JM and I were quaking when we left. It’s silly, because I’m sure that he’s a perfectly decent person, but he clearly is lacking in people skills.

Besides that, we clearly had a philosophical difference about how dogs are fed, raised and treated. To him, it was obvious they are animals, to us, they are little people with furry suits. He feeds all the dogs there Royal Canin kibble, I feed mine either home prepared or a very high quality canned brand that is almost all meat, with some vegetables and no grains. He looked at me like there was something wrong with me mentally for doing that, and although he said he would feed them what I brought, I could tell he didn’t like it one bit.

That was clearly NOT going to work out.

I next called a place that just from its name struck me as being more in tune with my philosophy: Les Animaux en Vacance. Yep, clearly not someone who thinks of dogs as farm animals.

We went to check it out yesterday, and I have to say both JM and I felt comfortable right away. The place is basically a large house on several, fenced, hectares of land right in the middle of grape vines. The fence is high enough to keep Shmoo in and has an electric wire running around the base to keep the dogs away from it for digging purposes.

Except for a place we used in L.A. that was more expensive per day than the hotels we stayed in, I haven’t found another facility like this; certainly not since we’ve moved. The dogs are outside, free to run around and play all day, and have the entire basement of the house, filled with beds and cushions for sleeping at night. And, when the weather is cooler so the heat doesn’t get inside, the house is left open all day so the dogs can go inside and hang out there too if they want to.

There were about eight dogs there yesterday when we visited. All of them were happy and friendly. They all got along and there was no growling or fighting. On top of that, leaving both dogs will cost us less per day than just leaving Maggie at the place we used in L.A. And, not only was there no problem about our bringing their food, it is expected.

For the first time since we moved here, I feel that we have an excellent solution for the dogs even if we only want to go away for a day trip. It’s between Limoux and Cepie, so not a problem  to get to, and the young woman who runs it is clearly of the same mindset as us.

Let’s hear it for the DINO lovers!

Ciao for now.

Randy

Another Summer Gone

Weren't we the height of pool fashion?

 

I know that there are still three weeks to go until Fall is officially here, but honestly, doesn’t the first weekend in September ALWAYS feel like summer is over. Even in places like the Possum Kingdom, where it’s not Labor Day, it IS the beginning of school. That’s it for “fun,” Kids, time to get back to the grind.

One of the things about living in an area that has a lot of tourism, is that you know immediately that the season is over, because you just stop seeing strangers in the village. Sure, there are the occasional hangers on who don’t have children to worry about, but mostly, the tourists are gone. You can go into the grocery store and park with no trouble, the aisles are no longer chock full of confused looking foreigners, there are no whining kids (except on Wednesday) and there is just a feeling of life returning to normal.

I know that I’m odd, because I always look forward to Fall. And it’s not just now, as an adult. I liked it as a kid too, because I actually enjoyed going to school; it gave me a sense of purpose for my day I suppose. Now, I enjoy it because I like the cooler weather a lot. Come on, admit it; you really want to try on that new sweater you found on sale this summer, don’t you? Aren’t you looking forward to that first cool, fresh day when you can put it on and know that soon it will be Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas? And, for those of us who LOVE television, it’s the beginning of the Fall TV season, when we get to see what’s new with our favorite characters from years past and maybe find a new have series too.

So, let’s celebrate the Fall and not mourn the long lost days of  Summer.

Ciao for now,

Randy

Now that I’m back

There is a lot of catching up to do!

 

Did we miss anything?

 

For any of you who didn’t spend the summer in the area, it was a very strange year. In June, it was horribly hot. Everything started to bloom and get ripe all at the same time. We were under draught restrictions for water use from the river.  The day the restrictions were to go into effect, the weather changed drastically. July was cold, wet and felt more like October than July!

There were days in July where the river was as high as it can get in the spring when the mountain snow is melting. The water restrictions just disappeared. Everyone started to complain the the produce in their gardens was mildewing.  When we went to our local fruit and veg shop, Jean-Paul told us that all the produce was coming in at the wrong time. Apricots were available in July, when normally we don’t get them until almost August. Same thing for plums.

When August hit, the weather again made a 90 degree turn; or maybe I should say a 100 degree turn, as the weather became very hot without any real rain for several weeks. This past week was about as miserable as I can remember. We had days where it was 39 (about 100 degrees or so), which is very, very unusual for here. I know that we had plenty of days like that in L.A., but there, it was desert dry, so even if it seemed to suck the juice out of you when you went outside, you didn’t feel it in the same way as here, where the humidity was also high. Those of you in places that get weather like that all the time have my utmost sympathy. I was miserable.

Even our house, which normally remains cool when it’s hot, finally gave up and got hot too. It’s a bit like living in a stone oven after a week or more of temperatures that high. We definitely felt baked.

Now, the weather has suddenly broken, and it dropped from 22 degrees this morning to 17 degrees this afternoon (Celsius, not Fahrenheit) and it’s raining. I need to go to the bank in Limoux, but I think I’ll put it off for another day.

If you’re here in the area trying to enjoy your last few days of summer holidays, I’m sorry. I, on the other hand, am actually enjoying the weather. I know I’ll feel all soggy and miserable when I walk the dogs, but it’s sure a lot more comfortable than last week.

 

Ciao for now.

Randy

Life and Death in the Possum Kingdom

My mom, circa 1970 something

 

I’m back, with excuses and explanations. On July 21st, my mom, Irene Gerken, né Rosenberg, passed away in her own home, here in the Possum Kingdom. She had been seriously ill for about two weeks, but while she was still lucid, she said she did not want to go to a hospital, and I promised to respect her wishes. She had suffered an intestinal blockage, possibly caused by either undetected colon cancer or a mesenteric infarction, but whatever the cause, given her overall health, surgery would only have prolonged her suffering and accomplished nothing in the end.

I did my best to be a good daughter, and JM and I took the best care of her that we possibly could. I am exceedingly grateful to have had the four years we had with her here, and I know that she was happy with her new life.

Although things were sometimes stressful and difficult, I truly loved her and was proud and lucky to have her as my mother.

Now that she’s gone, there is a bit of a hole in my life, as I had integrated caring for her into my daily existence. It is partly because of that that I have been absent here for so long. To be honest, because of her cognitive problems, the last few months have been quite stressful. And that, more than anything, has kept me from being a faithful correspondent.

On top of Mom’s problems, JM’s parents have also required a great deal of mental and physical energy. His mother has been diagnosed with Alzheimer and his father also is having some neurological problems. Neither of them believes, or even wants to hear, that that is what is going on, so we deal with our emotions about it all, without being able to really do anything to help them.

I am slowly starting to get back into my own life again. It is a bit of a process, and part of it is trying to be here more faithfully. I need to remember that I do have a life and friends and I was once something more than a caregiver! It will happen.

Ciao for now.

Randy

DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! DANGER!

Spring field

Along the Hers

 

JM sent me this important news story from CNN:

That fire, less than 70 miles west of the Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area, burned into residential areas surrounding Possum Kingdom Lake Monday night, destroying and damaging homes in four or five neighborhoods, according to Marq Webb, a spokesman with the Texas Forest Service.

Aerial images shot Tuesday by CNN affiliate WFAA showed some homes on the edge of Possum Kingdom Lake burned down to the foundations, swaths of charred vegetation and heavy smoke hanging over parts of the area. Still, numerous homes appeared to have escaped the flames, some of them next to houses that had been destroyed.

I am glad to announce, however, that this Possum Kingdom is NOT our very own, but one in the State of Texas, which is having horrible fires. I felt reassured to know that all French Possums are currently safe.

That is, you are safe as long as you don’t suffer from hay fever and pollen allergies. If you do, you feel pretty rotten right now. The wind is blowing and the pollen is going and going. Of course, it does mean lovely things to look at, and later in the season, to eat. But for now, it means itchy eyes and throat and runny noses.

Everyone is getting read for Easter weekend, and there is tons of chocolate everywhere, so it also means that Possums need to keep their scales hidden in a closet for a few weeks if they don’t want to feel guilty and sinful.

In other local news, Veolia, the humongous entity who seems to have fingers in every sort of pie, including being our water company, is digging massive holes in the village roads. They are supposedly replacing the sewers, which are in a lamentable state. Overall, that is a good thing, however in order to accomplish this feat, the seem to need to turn our water off at inconvenient times and with no warning. I have, several times, discovered the lack of running water when I had hands full of soap and thus no way to wash it off. I was less than amused.

Still, this is the south of France. There is no need to get in a tizzy. It will pass in its own time and life will go on.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Not many April Showers

 

I rule!
Peaches presents a calming influence

Last week was far too nice to spend time inside writing on the computer! We had amazing, totally unseasonal weather, with temperatures at 30 C (86 F); something unheard of at this time of year. Apparently there was one of those weird currents from Africa that sometimes occur and we were the beneficiaries.

I’m not sure if that’s a totally good thing, though, as we can still have freezing temperatures between now and the end of May. Everything is in bloom, and if we get a frost, it will be bad for gardeners and farmers alike.

But it was hard not to enjoy it! Everyone was out and about. Unfortunately, the “everyone” included a snake that we ran into on one of our walks. I am assured that it was a harmless snake and not a viper, but I have to tell you that all snakes look alike as far as I’m concerned, and I’d rather not run across them at all if possible.

The dogs have been enjoying themselves massively. Peaches, in particular, has gotten to play like mad with her new friend Freya the adorable, who is a dead-ringer for our dear, departed Diva Maggie. Shmoo plays to the best of his ability, but is severely limited by the fact that I won’t let him off his leash. I know it drives him crazy, but it’s really his own fault, as he will simply take off into the field and start digging his way to China in his mad search to root out every last vole in the canton.

With the run-up to Easter, there are also lots of out-of-town visitors, which is always a pleasure. Nice for them to be able to enjoy this lovely weather, instead of having to confront drenching rain and cold temperatures.

Fingers crossed that it stays nice for a while longer yet.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Just a small reminder

Plum Blossums

The Rogets' plum tree in bloom

For those of you in places where winter still reigns, it is only a matter of time! Most of the fruit trees here are now in bloom, and we’re starting to see the signs of green all around us. Be patient; your turn will come!

This weekend has been amazing for the month of April. Our temperatures were in the mid-70s (mid 20s C) and you could easily have thought yourself in June! It seems that every dog in the village is out being walked, and the Lofficier family canines have had a blast playing with all their four-footed pals. Well, at least Peaches has; poor Shmoo Alexander is no longer allowed that freedom, since he abuses it and simply takes off into the fields to dig for voles.

We’ve been lucky, because our friend Diane is here for the weekend, so we’ve all enjoyed being out and about together in the sun.

Hope you all have a spectacular Sunday, wherever you are.

Ciao for now,

Randy