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The Loire Valley

Tavant is a tiny ancient town near Chinon in the Loire region of France. We spent a week at an 18th century ruin that was renovated 4 years ago. It was clean and charming and a convenient drive to all the major chateaus the Loire is famous for.

I’ve been told the French are very private people. This is one reason so many continue to live with large stone walls or hedges surrounding their properties. Here are some pics of our Homeaway rental

Our first morning we woke to a huge flea market! It’s held once a year and is called a brocante. It’s like a big neighborhood garage sale and a market with vendors who came from all over France to sell things….. used clothing, old ceramics, knives, sewing machines…. anything they want to get rid of or resell or sell.

Dave loved the food! He enjoyed a grilled duck breast sandwich with lots of butter on a baguette

The church in Tavant is called St Nickolas and is famous for frescoes from the 11th century that are in beautiful condition. We had a special tour from an art historian. More extensive frescoes are in the crypt, but could not be photographed.

The Loire is a river that runs east to west and divides France into north and south. This flat bottom style boat is the traditional Loire River boat.

In the 16th century the rich royalty built over 1000 chateaus/castles over the ruins of medieval castles and fortresses. We visited a few: Villandry, Azay-de-Rideau, Chateau Royal d’Amboise, Chateau du Clos-Lucé, Ussé, Fortresse Royale de Chinon, Chaumont-sur-Loire and Chenonceaux

Monday we visited 2 chateaus. Villandry and Azay-de-Rideau. These chateaus have beautiful gardens, but it was April 2 and the spring was cold and rainy. So not much was blooming, but there were no crowds and the basic gardens were there to enjoy!

Villandry is family owned! The gardens are massive and multi leveled. A gorgeous place to see!

Azay-de-Rideau is a fairy castle with a beautiful reflecting pool. It’s owned by France. The gardens are much less extensive and more of a relaxed English garden style. This is the back of the castle with the classic view and pond.

Tuesday we drove to the city of Amboise where we saw 2 chateaus that were a smaller size. The owner of them at the time enjoyed Leonardo di Vinci and invited him to live there with his students his last 3 years of life.

Royal Chateau of Amboise

Leonardo di Vinci is buried in this chapel

Clos Luce is where Leonardo di Vinci lived his last 3 years of life

Leonardo di Vinci worked on the Mona Lisa here

We shared a lunch of an omelette and a quiche at the Clos Lucé cafe.

Wednesday we visited Ussé, the chateau Disney’s Magic Kingdom castle is based on. It also inspired the Sleeping Beauty fairytale.

We then went to Saumur and walked about the pretty town and had lunch. A delicious mixture of mushroom and strips of meat were encrusted in puff pastry and served in a sauce. Dessert was a chocolate and cookie crust pretty presentation.

The Church in Saumur

Thursday we visited the city of Chinon which has a fortress.

Beautiful view from the fortress

Chinon life

We had a beautiful lunch at l’Oceanic, probably the best meal of our entire trip. And it was only 18 euros each including a delicious glass of wine!

My 1st course or entree was hake fish with whole grain mustard spread on top and baked in the oven. It was served with small amounts of a variety of vegetables. Chinese cabbage bed, seasoned lightly, spread of puréed pumpkin with cumin, 1 asparagus spear, 3 flavorful mushrooms, a spoonful of rich creamed fennel/fenueek, and a crisp wafer of black squid ink on top. Beautiful presentation and so innovative!

Dave had puréed mullet served with the same vegetables and a spicy sauce. His dried wafer was tasty

My dessert was so fun! It was a snowball size of beaten egg white and sugar and maybe a tiny bit of flour, baked quickly and covered with toasted coconut. Served with mascarpone ice cream, a smear of berry glaze, crushed cookie meringues, and 2 candied cherries.

Dave’s dessert was a tube of phyllo baked with apples served with raspberry sorbet, crushed meringue cookies and beery purée.

Friday we visited 2 chateaus near the city of Amboise: Chaumont and Chenonceaux

Chaumont-sur-Loire, located on the Loire River, has beautiful English style gardens and garden exhibitions later in the spring. This was my favorite castle because the rooms that were not renovated were used for modern art exhibits. It was also filled with natural light. It’s said that Leonardo di Vinci helped design this castle.


Chenonceaux was beautiful and had many more tourists. Part of the castle was built over the Cher River. It’s renovation and furnishings are elegant including flower arrangements in each room.

France has a long history of fine food and elaborate entertaining. Here are some fancy cakes on display at Azay-le-Rideau. Enjoy!

Brittany Borders Normandy

We drove from the west coast of Brittany to the northeast where Brittany borders Normandy. This was a farm stay booked through Homeaway. Our lovely farm country home was once a shed and dated to the 18th century. It had 2 levels, modern conveniences and a wood burning stove! It was a lot of fun keeping the fire going. The French love their wood stoves and fires! There are immaculately stacked piles of wood all over the countryside of France!

Here is our farmhouse. It is part of a neighborhood of homes, some rented as vacation homes, others inhabited by long term residents. Their 10 sheep and 4 ducks were enchanting.

The owners lived next door in a loft style home built in a barn. In their spacious kitchen they taught us how to separate fresh milk from cream and how to make English style sausages! They also offered soap making classes which we didn’t have time for.

Here is the farm where we picked up the fresh cows milk

Our Homeaway owner Stuart carrying the fresh milk in plastic jugs

In Gabrielle and Stuart’s kitchen separating the cream from the milk.

Gabrielle makes ice cream out of most of the cream! We enjoyed lemon curd flavor!

Gabrielle and Stuart also taught us to make English style sausages. They’re made with pork shoulder that is ground once. Cooked rice and seasonings are added. The meat is carefully stuffed into the casings to a specific size. The sausages are twisted into links. The sausages are then refrigerated several hours to dry out. Then they are ready to grill or fry!

Ground pork and rice in a bowl

Stuffing the casings

Making the links by twisting the sausage at specific lengths

Voila! Sausages!

Our hosts were from Britain so we made British sausages with many seasonings. They said the French use only salt and pepper.

Mont St-Michel is the second most visited site in France next to the Eiffel Tower. It was beautiful. This is Normandy, but close to the border of Brittany.

We had lunch at this Christian pilgrimage site over 1000 years old. Lamb is raised on the salty marshes that surround this island. So I ordered the salty lamb stew served with a light tender bean mixture and French fries!

Dave had mussels, a specialty of the sea!

St Malo is an ancient city with ramparts and medieval fortifications that date to the 1100s which is enchanting to walk around

We discovered the market and met a friendly woman selling cheese and farm butter! The salted butter was super salty!

She recommended this very creamy rich cheese that had to be spread on bread or fruit! Like butter!

St Malo had a delish pastry called Kouign Amann. It was strips of bread dough rolled in a spiral and brushed with butter and sprinkled with sugar. Yummy right out of the oven!

The weather was cold and rainy again the next day, but we persevered and drove along the north coast of the English Channel west of St Malo. The views were magnificent at Cap Fréhel!

We continued driving and stopped for a quick lunch in St-Jacut-de-la-Mer. What we thought was a little bar was a fine dining restaurant. We stayed for a 2 course lunch

Raw sardines with capers and a marinade. Very beautiful but not my taste

Since I didn’t like this they gave me a substitute, raw oysters, a tiny improvement

Our entree was a filet of beef on a sauce with cauliflower au gratin.Very pretty

After lunch we drove on to Dinard. The sun came out and we walked around this resort town that has a strong British influence. We bought some Coquille St-Jacques, which we call scallops.

The fish monger removed the scallops from the shells for us

I sautéed the scallops in salty French farm butter and made a vinaigrette with olive oil, lemon juice and “Dijon” mustard, all served with lettuce and endive salad

The next day we explored Dinan, the most medieval town of all Brittany! The town has preserved their old city filled with more half timbered buildings that you can see in most any one city. The cobblestone walkways and ancient buildings are well preserved and charming.

After taking the Rick Steves walk around town we found a bar where they were grilling sausages outside. We sat inside and ate sausages wrapped in galettes with a bit of mustard. Hard cider too which is a Breton specialty, usually served in a big ceramic cup. Yum!

The farm was a cool experience. The sheep out back were endearing. Their ducks were laying green yolk eggs because of the green pond plants they were eating. Green eggs are a real thing! And the huge farms were a powerhouse of wheat, pigs, sheep and cattle!

These are huge grain elevators for the pig farm near our farm rental.

Some of their farm ducks were laying green eggs, Dr Seuss style!

The rolling landscape of Brittany flowed on and on and the ancient buildings gave a reminder of time past.

Brittany……the Wild West of France

After several days in Paris we took the fast TGV train to Brest, a city near the far west coast of France. It was a 3 hour luxurious ride in a smooth running train that sped up to 120 mph!

In Brest we took a cab to the airport and picked up our rental car, a Renault Kadjar. We rented through the Renault Euro Drive program which is much less expensive than your typical rentals and they provide a brand new reliable car! This was our vehicle for the next 7 weeks.

We spent 5 days in Lanildut, a coastal town where fishing and seaweed harvesting are prolific. The walks along the rugged coastline and drives to other coastal towns were thrilling.

Here’s a photo of our Homeaway rental in Lanildut. The style and size is typical Breton, but it’s new, built in the 1970s.

It had a charming artistic decor

Here’s a view of the sea

Notice the seaweed and the low tide. The seaweed is harvested in this area and used in food products and in the health and beauty products.

La Pointe Saint-Mathieu is an eerie open air abbey ruin on the coast


Beautiful stone homes like these

The prehistoric menhirs and dolmen are found throughout the area

Lanildut has beautiful walking paths

Coastal views at low tide


I’ll start with crepes. They are popular in Brittany and Normandy. You’ll find people making crepes at the markets and in cafes. They stack them up and the locals buy them by the bunch at the markets. You’ll even see them factory made wrapped in plastic in the grocery stores.

The light brown colored buckwheat crepe is served with savory foods and the light flour crepes are for dessert fillings. People buy a crepe at the market with a bit of filling in it, wrapped in paper, and walk around the market. Even in the cold and blowing rain, they walk and eat their crepes, usually filled with a little butter and sugar or Nutella. Or plain, as you like!

At a cafe this buckwheat crepe filled with a little cheese is folded into a square and placed over plain lettuce. Voila!

Boulangeries and patisseries are in every little town in Brittany. This is France though it has a British feel. A favorite Breton pastry is called Far Breton. It is similar to flan, but does not have a pastry crust. It’s also very similar to a Scandinavian breakfast food called Aggkaka. Far is made of a batter of eggs, milk, flour and a little bit of sugar, as is Aggkaka. The difference is Far batter is refrigerated a few hours. Then it is poured into a baking pan, baked, cooled and cut in squares. Sometimes prunes, raisins or apples are added to the batter.

Here is the traditional Far Breton with prunes. This one is very thick and high

Here’s other Fars that aren’t as thick, which we saw more often. Notice the different sizes of the whole Fars which are baked in different sizes of baking pans.

This Far Breton has apples

Another pastry popular in Brittany is Gateau Breton. It’s very rich and made with lots of butter. Breizh means Breton or Brittany or Bretagne. This region has Celtic roots and uses the Celtic language.

The cake above and below is the Breton cake that is made with butter and lots of sugar. It’s very rich and crispy.

Other pastries in Brittany you also find all over France. Such as the almond croissant and the raisin swirled pastry below

Here is a view of some of the other fancy pastries in the shops

One of our favorite lunches was the pizza like squares at the patisserie


The farm market in St-Renen offered many food options including takeaway prepared foods. Here we bought escargot that were farm raised and prepared with a butter garlic mixture, placed back in each shell ready to heat in our oven at home

This vendor roasted potatoes over a wood fire and then added a variety of different toppings all layered over cream, ready to heat up at home


Big trays of potato gratin were popular. You could buy any amount. All had cheese and cream. Some also added ham

Fish and shell fish of course. Crabs and oysters too!


The fresh produce was colorful! The French most all have leeks in their baskets. Turnips and celery root are common purchases too!

We had some surprises when dining out on the west coast of Brittany. An Irish pub recommended for it’s delish fish and chips also served wonderful scallops with squid ink risotto! Another restaurant added seaweed to its bread and creme brûlée! That was shocking!

Fried fish and French fries

Scallops and squid ink risotto in a cream sauce

We were introduced to goats milk and yogurt! They are delicious! A bit more of a tang than cows milk and yogurt

The landscape of the farmland is dramatic. The roads are lined with plant material covered fences. The old stone fences are not even seen through the thick plants, shrubs and trees.

On March 16, 1978 The Amoco Cadiz ran aground on Portsall Rocks 5 km from the coast of Brittany. The Lanildut community was remembering this 40 year anniversary by watching a documentary. The ship split in 3 and spilled 68 million gallons of oil along 240 miles of Brittany’s coast. The coastline is beautiful today and it has been a pleasure spending time here in Lanildut.

Dining Out in Paris

Dining out in Paris for lunch or dinner does not have to be expensive. You can eat a long leisurely lunch or make it quick on the run. Let the waiter know your time frame if you need to get somewhere. We spent 5 nights in Paris and I’ll share photos here of our dining experiences.

At Le Petit Cler located on Rue Cler, the famous food market neighborhood, we enjoyed a seared piece of mild fish served with beurre blanc sauce and potatoes. This is a classic French butter sauce

Another day for lunch we enjoyed Bistrot Richelieu located near The Louvre. Here is the French Onion Soup which was made with small croutons, not a large piece of bread as often seen. Also the cheese was not stringy and excessive. It was flavorful but not overwhelming. We also shared escargot! It was not a strong flavor of garlic as is often served and the parsley was light and fresh. Special utensils were provided to eat the escargot!


Escargot in a butter and parsley sauce with a tiny hint of garlic

With the escargot tongs hold one escargot shell with one hand. Use the tiny fork with the other hand to dig the escargot out of the shell. It is tricky! I sent one shell flying across the table!

Cafe au lait Cafe Crema is a beautiful thing

One night we splurged on some fine dining at the restaurant located at the ground level of our apartment building

L’Hydrophobe. Delicious food and special service from the staff

Entrées or First Course

Jerusalem Artichoke Cream Soup made with Jerusalem artichoke, leek and onion. This was served with a slightly baked or poached egg and sliced foil gras. Amazing! I have never seen a Jerusalem artichoke. It’s a root vegetable.

Here’s a Jerusalem artichoke I found at the market. It’s like a light potato with more flavor. Definitely a tubor, not at all like an artichoke. It’s French name is topinambour.

This is the Jerusalem artichoke soup with egg and sliced foie gras. It’s garnished with paprika and chives.

Dave ordered the endive and watercress salad with sliced foie gras de canard and a light vinaigrette

Les Plats or The Dishes or 2nd course or Main Course

A whitefish with a leek paté and a red wine sauce served with parsnip, turnip a potato

Duck breast with orange sauce served with roast cauliflower, carrot, potato and parsnip

Les Desserts

Fillo leaf cup filled with apples and caramel sauce

Chocolate Fondant with grapefruit sorbet

The waitress tells us to make this dessert is very simple. It’s a mixture of melted chocolate, sugar and egg. This is poured in a shallow pan and placed in a water bath. This is all baked at a low temperature. I’ll make this one day!

Another restaurant we visited for lunch was Chez Paul Bastille

Les Entrees

Fish in curry sauce

Cold Pork Terrine and Salad with a Spicy Sauce

Mushrooms over Toast with Salad and Fried Jerusalem Artichokes

Complimentary Goat Cheese

Another day we stopped for lunch at a creperie before visiting the Catacombs. The savory crepes are always buckwheat and the sweet crepes are wheat flour. Our buckwheat crepes were filled with 3 strong flavored cheeses and walnuts and served over plain lettuce salad.

Well this is it for now! Until our next visit to Paris!

Paris Apartment Eating

The apartment we rented through Airbnb was a tiny studio, but it had everything we needed, including a kitchen! We didn’t cook anything there but we brought food in to make light breakfasts and dinners. There are boulangeries and patisseries every where, as well as boucheries which sell cooked and prepared meats as well as your typical butcher meats.

I will share with you first a video of our apartment including the kitchen. Then I’ll show you some pictures of the food we bought in our neighborhood to eat in our apartment. Our typical breakfasts were baguette or pastry with coffee and milk or fresh fruit and goats milk yogurt. Dinners were combinations of baguettes, sliced prosciutto type meats, terrines of meat and pâtés, mini quiche Lorraine, cheese, fresh vegetables and wine.

A delicious medium strong blue cheese

Fresh goat cheese coated is charcoal or ash. The purpose of the ash is to neutralize the pH and prevent mold formation. It also makes the little rounds of cheese look pretty!

Here’s a typical cheese shop.

Sandwiches made with baguettes are popular in the bakeries

These chickens and other small birds roasting over potatoes are popular in Paris and Provence

A popular pastry made of a baked croissant that has been sliced open and layered with cream, almond paste and sometimes also chocolate. It is shaped and sprinkled with powdered sugar and almonds

Of course there’s the baguette

And these eclairs!

Such a pretty package too!

Coffee and chocolate glaze and filling!

We stopped at one of the Amorino shops known for their gelato. I bought this macaroon filled with gelato and decorated with a fancy chocolate!

I’ll add more pics of mini quiche Lorraine and terrines of cold meats when we return to Paris mid May.

And of course wine is available in the grocery stores, wine shops and butcher shops!

Paris Bakery Tour

In the Montmartre area of Paris, March of 2018, we had lessons and a tour of the Le Grenier bakery and pastry shop. We signed up online through Viator. Olga was our superb tour guide!

It was a very cozy space with friendly bakers. We learned the bakers day began at 3 am and ended at 1 pm. The dough is made the day before and includes sourdough, yeast, flour, salt and water. There are over 3000 bakeries/boulangeries in Paris, but only 300 make their own bread and pastry from scratch on site! To check if your bakery makes their own, look for mixing machines in the back of the shop and workers baking!

A baguette should have many different sizes of holes inside and also a very crispy crust like you see here:

I will show you some of the steps involved. Most bakers keep their recipes a secret, so I do not have that to share.

Here is a video of the dough made the morning before. It is full of bubbles and is being poured into a square machine that cuts the dough into baguette size portions:

The next step is spreading this dough with flour and closing the lid. This cuts the dough into baguette size pieces:

Now the pieces of dough are placed in the Panimatic which rolls the dough into the long thin shape:


The baguettes are placed by hand into rolled cradles of heavy cloth for resting:

The baguettes are placed on baking sheets which roll in and out of the ovens:

The baguettes are rolled into the ovens, baked and then rolled out to cool:

Baguettes are placed in the tall basket for customers to purchase at the counter:

Here are some quick pics of the pastry kitchen!

Using a scale to add ingredients for French custard:

Only the best pure butter is used:

Candied fruit is drying on racks waiting to be used to decorate the pastries:


y¡’¡Nin is the

Lemon Pudding Cakes


A sponge cake and custard all in one recipe! No frosting! No filling! ZoeBakes is the source of this recipe.

The Meyer lemon looks like an orange, but when the juice is baked up in the cake, it turns yellow like a lemon. It’s a cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange and is a milder citrus than lemon but not as sweet as an orange. This fruit is named after Frank Nicholas Meyer who introduced the plant in the US from China.


  • Soft butter for ramekins
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/4 cup fresh Meyer lemon juice, or traditional lemon, grapefruit, lime or a combination of the 3 juices
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour (spoon and sweep into the measuring cup)
  • 3/4 cup sugar plus extra to dust the ramekins
  • pinch of salt
  • zest of 2 Meyer lemons, or 2 limes or 1 grapefruit


  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees
  • Butter heavily 6 to 8 ramekins with soft butter
  • Dust buttered ramekins with sugar
  • Lay a kitchen towel in the bottom of a roasting pan
  • Place the ramekins on top of the towel
  • In a bowl whisk together the flour and 3/4 cup sugar and salt
  • Rub the zest into the flour mix with your fingers
  • Set aside
  • In a bowl whisk together the buttermilk, lemon juice and egg yolks
  • Set aside
  • In a bowl beat together the egg whites with 1 tablespoon sugar until just soft peaks. Do not over beat or it will not mix into the batter
  • Whisk flour mix into the buttermilk mix
  • Fold in the egg whites 1/3 at a time with a rubber spatula
  • Ladle the batter into the ramekins
  • Fill the roasting pan with hot water up to the middle of the ramekins
  • Tent with foil making sure the foil does not touch ramekins
  • Bake 20 minutes and then remove foil
  • Bake another 20 minutes
  • Remove ramekins from oven and from the roasting pan. Cool on racks to room temperature
  • The Pudding Cakes can be served warm, room temperature or cold.
  • They can be made ahead and stored in the ramekins
  • You  can serve them in the ramekins or invert them on to serving plates
  • They look best when inverted because the pudding appears on the top
  • To invert, run a knife along the perimeter of the ramekin. Invert on plates
  • You can serve with a berry jam but I prefer without!
  • Voila!

Prepare the ramekins and roasting pan


Rub the zest into the flour mix with your fingers


Combine the buttermilk, egg yolks and lemon juice


Whisk flour mix into buttermilk/egg mix


Fold beaten egg whites into batter


Ladle batter into prepared ramekins


Prepare to place roasting pan in the 325 degree F oven


Make a tent of foil over the roasting pan making sure not to touch foil to the batter


Lemon Pudding Cake inverted on a plate!