Les Crottes

Dog turds abound on French pavements.  Many do not pick up after their dogs. So far I’ve only stepped in one (Though I have been saved by Jennifer  a few times….). We’ve seen them in Paris and other places we’ve visited. We’ve often seen notices about them. Here is one from Vitré:

Rough translation:

2nd message:

The owner of the big dog that dumped again today between 8:30 and 9:30. They should bring a bag and collect the droppings of their dog.

Isaba, Espagne

A few snaps here from a languishing draft that should have been posted along with Pays Basque.

Isaba is on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees in the province of Navarre.  We passed through the tiny mountain town (pop. about 500) on our way to a hike in the Vale de Belagua.  Although distinctive from the French side, the architecture here is typically Basque.

For history and hiking enthusiasts, the area is a must-do.


La Roche-aux-Fées

Next stop, one of Bretagne’s many megaliths – La Roche-aux-Fées (Rock of the Fairies).  The monument is made up of 42 mammoth sized purple palaeozoic schist stones.  Naturally, legend says the fairies built it.


Fans of the medieval will love Vitré  (on map).  It has an enormous fairytale castle, and architecture buffs will appreciate its high concentration of timber-framed houses with overhanging porches.  We arrived on a Monday, when shops are closed and the streets empty.  We had all the narrow alley ways to ourselves.  Had we not run across a kebab shop or cobblestone workers blasting the Euro-pop, we could have been in the 15th century.

Madame de Sévigné, beloved queen of French letters, lived here.

More on Butter Process

Back to the butter after a few interruptions.

An inquiring mind asked what happens to the buttermilk once the butter fat fully separates.  First, some clarification.  “Buttermilk” from butter churning is not the same buttermilk on the store shelf.  Commercial buttermilk at the grocery is a cultured milk, meaning bacteria was added to homogenized milk to create the slightly thick, lightly tangy milk.  Makes for very tasty pancakes and biscuits.  Some like it as beverage.

The “buttermilk” that results from butter process is basically a skim milk.  It is sweet, not sour.  Some of it goes toward making other dairy products, like yogurt and cheese.  In the “olden days” when folks churned their own butter, the milk by-product was fed to farm animals.  In fact, the practice continues.  Our very own USDA promoted dehydrated “buttermilk” to feed chickens, hogs and cattle.  Other USDA workers scorn this practice, calling it wasteful.  They argue that the skim milk could go toward cottage cheese production.  With every pound of butter yielding approximately 15 – 20 pounds of skim milk, cheap protein can be used to feed more humans, not critters.

Want to see how this works?  See Chef Butter below. (If you don’t want to wait the full 9 minutes, you can skip to the end when the chef squeezes out excess milk from the butter and ladels out a sip of buttermilk.)

Some Butter Basics

Butter is a highly concentrated form of milk that contains protein, calcium and phosphorous, and the fat-soluble vitamins A, D and E.  It is produced by churning whole milk or straight cream until butter fats form and separate from the water-based components of the cream.  Approximately five gallons of whole milk or cream yield just over two pounds of butter.  In North America, butters hover between 80% – 82% milk fat, whereas European butters are typically between 82% – 84%.  The rest of it is mostly water (more later on the importance of water content) and a few milk solids.  Salted butters have salt added, of course, typically in concentrations of 1% – 2%.  There’s a lot of chemistry to butter, but we’ll skip the composition details for the moment and move next to explaining how U.S. butters differ from European butters.  And of course, why French (Breton) butter tastes bestest of all.

N.B.  Let the record show that an agent of one of France’s neighboring states has launched a formal challenge to my claim of French butter superiority.  Stay tuned for…The Butter Wars.

Butter vs. God

“Butter Tower” of Rouen Cathedral

Bless those always looking  for ways to bend the rules, especially for those life essentials we can’t seem to live without – like butter.  During the Middle Ages, butter was a banned food during Lent.  Europeans of the south didn’t mind this so much.  They used olive oil for cooking anyway.  But those in the north, having neither the Mediterranean climate nor olive trees of their southern brothers, relied heavily on butter.  Disgusted by and resentful of the distasteful oil sold them by Southerners, Northerners opted to pay a nominal fee (six deniers Tournois) to the Church to be exempt from the prohibition.  Was it a few coins gathered?  Hardly.  The butter payments were so lucrative for the diocese of Rouen that the church was able to fund a new tower, aptly named the “Butter Tower,” completed in 1507.

Butter – 1    God – 0


Speaking of the religious, Martin Luther was particularly miffed by Lent’s butter bans. In 1520 he scoffed, “For at Rome they themselves laugh at the fasts, making us foreigners eat the oil with which they would not grease their shoes, and afterwards selling us liberty to eat butter .”


Coming Soon: The Butter Chronicles

I’ve been eating a lot of butter lately.  A lot of butter.  During breakfast one morning,  Ofer looked at the dime-sized piece of baguette in my hand.  Proportionately speaking, the butter that blocked view of the bread beneath made the piece of baguette look like a stray crumb that had fallen on a slab of butter.  He suggested that perhaps I had it backward – that the butter was not intended as a delivery device for the bread.

Really?  Says who?

So in homage to good butter (which I believe can only be found in France), I have planned a few tasty factoids about one of the simpler finer things in life.

To get readers in the mood, we’ll start with this handy video about butter making in Bretagne.  (Breton butter is my favorite butter.)  There aren’t subtitles for the French, but the fun part is in the visuals.  And if readers understand French, all the better.

Butter Video (begins after short ad)

Hats Off to Seattle Times

Wednesday morning everybody won.  Everybody except the hatin’ losers, that is.  I’d stayed up through the wee hours of French standard time to watch the general election results come in, and by 6:00 a.m., with the passing of Ref 74, I was extra, extra proud to be from Washington State.  Approval should never have taken as long as it did, and the margin was too close for my comfort, but at last it’s here.  As someone who hisses every time the name is mentioned, I got an especially good chuckle out of the Seattle Times sticking it to the likes of Joseph Backholm’s Preserve Marriage Washington with the paper’s support and endorsement for Washington United for Marriage.  (Read it here:  Editorial: It’s time for Washington voters to approve same-sex marriage)  Poor Backholm whines, “his campaign was up against what he called ‘Washington’s political establishment and news media — with The Seattle Times taking the unprecedented step of not just endorsing the referendum, but of actively campaigning for its approval.'”  Maybe I’ll reconsider a subscription the next time they call…maybe.

Incidentally, for those wondering about France’s position on same-sex marriage, here t’is:  France to legalise gay marriage in 2013

Glad to see I-502 passed. We’ll see what the Feds have in store for its future.

Now, my Washington voting amis, what went wrong with the Eyman initiative???