Saturday, July 31, 2010

Le potager en fin juillet

On this last day of July I thought I'd show you the current state of the vegetable garden. Our weather has been pretty good through the month. These past few days, however, have been met with rather chilly mornings. But since the days warm up well, I'm not worried that it'll affect the garden.

The whole four-square vegetable garden in the back yard.

I love it when the garden looks this lush and begins producing. The only things we've harvested so far, apart from radishes and parsley, have been some chard, zucchini, and patty-pan squash. The tomatoes are coming along but are still a while away from getting ripe.

Aubergines have big leaves and purple stems. Peppers are behind them in this plot.

One of the four square plots is filled with mostly aubergine (eggplant) and chili peppers. The aubergine plants grow slowly, but now they're looking good and many have blossoms. The chili peppers are doing well and there is fruit on them now. That plot also has four tomato plants in it, and they're looking good, too. This year I grew a bunch of marigold plants from seed and they're sprinkled here and there among the tomato plants.

A tomato begins to ripen. Will it be red or yellow? I planted both kinds.

The big tomato plot has sixteen plants in it and one row of rhubarb. The rhubarb is perennial and I'm not good at getting that row weeded out while the rhubarb is producing in early spring. Consequently the rhubarb row is also weed row. But it doesn't look to bad as long as I keep the weeds from spreading into the tomato patch.

Summer squash doing its thing. Radish flowers are on the lower right.

Another plot is given over exclusively to summer squash. Two hills of zucchini and two hills of patty-pan. These plants get big and look great when they do. This year I planted about six sunflower seeds in the middle of the plot and they're just now starting to lift above the canopy formed by the squash plants. It should be pretty when they flower.

The corn "field" with sunflowers growing up along the back.

I also put in a row of taller sunflowers behind the corn plot. They are huge now and are growing their flower heads. The corn is putting out tassels which should mean that the ears are not far behind. The corn we grew as an experiment last year was very tasty, so I'm hoping for a good crop this year.

There is more to the garden that I haven't shown you. There's a strip of chard and even more tomatoes that spans the western end of the four squares. We also have a rather large potato patch out in the back corner of the yard. And basil and spring onions are growing in a cold frame that's set up closer to the house.

So that's about it for now. I'll do another garden post as we move into late summer and harvest time.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Badly made

That's what malfatti means in Italian. They're like gnocchi, but made with spinach and ricotta cheese instead of potatoes and flour. And for these I used grated zucchini in the place of spinach. The idea came from a friend the other day while we discussed different things to do with the surplus of zucchini we home gardeners eventually have to deal with. I think they're called malfatti because they aren't particularly well formed; they look rustic rather than pretty.

Malfatti dumplings ready to be cooked.

First, I grated two small zucchini in the food processor, salted them and let them drain for about ten minutes. Then I squeezed them with a clean towel to remove as much water as possible. Next, I mixed the dried zucchini with ricotta cheese, a bit of grated parmesan, some breadcrumbs, a small bunch of scallions finely minced , a clove of garlic finely minced, salt, pepper, some grated nutmeg, and two eggs. I did this last part with my hands to make a uniform mixture. That went into the fridge for about twenty minutes to rest.

Malfatti served with a sage butter sauce.

Meanwhile, I brought a large pot of water to the boil and added salt. I formed the dough into small logs about four inches long, rolled them in flour, then cut them into one-inch pieces. In batches, I dropped the malfatti into the boiling water. They are ready when they come back up to the surface. I scooped them out with a slotted spoon and put them into a warming oven.

The last step is the sauce. Any sauce you like will do. For this first effort, I melted some butter and olive oil in a small pan and fried fresh sage leaves until they crisped up. Then I poured the sauce on the warm malfatti and served them. They were light and fluffy and delicious!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Barleycorn among the wheat

There is a field of wheat this year down at the bottom of our hill. Well, it's mostly wheat. There are some weeds and wildflowers growing among the uniform stalks of wheat. But there's also something else. When I got home from a recent walk and looked at my pictures, I noticed that there were two distinct kinds of grain growing in the field.

I'm not 100% sure, but I think this is barley among the wheat.

Most of it is wheat. I checked that out on the internet to be sure that what I was seeing was indeed wheat. But that grain you see above is not wheat; I think it's barley. Barley has those characteristic long straws projecting from each grain whereas wheat does not.

According to Wikipedia, France is the fifth largest wheat producer in the world after China, India, the US, and Russia. That makes sense, given all the bread and pastry baking that goes on here, although much of Europe's wheat production is exported to developing countries. France is also the fifth largest producer of barley after Russia, Canada, Spain, and Germany. That also follows considering that barley is used in beer making. Both grains are also used for animal feed, but I don't know how much in France.

So how does a little barley get mixed in with a crop of wheat? I don't know, but I can speculate! It may be left over from a previous crop or it may just be that the seed that farmers buy is not necessarily pure and a few grains of something else make their way in. I tend to think it's the latter.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Ah, grasshopper

I noticed this little critter on the exterior of the living room door the other day. Just as I got the camera ready, Callie, who was out on the deck, pawed at the door to come in. She swiped the grasshopper away.

The deck tile looks like some kind of cheese this close up.

Fortunately, he was not harmed and I was able to take his picture on the deck tiles. It almost looks like he's smiling up at the camera. Well, maybe not smiling.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A simple lunch

Before Ken got back last week with CHM, I had several days on my own for meals. I ate some zucchini, some pasta, some ham. One day I cut up some chicken breasts and marinated them in an Asian sweet and spicy sauce, then put the strips on sticks and grilled them.

Lunch for one.

I served that along side the patty-pan squash that I had steamed and a bowl of basmati rice. Very tasty!

On Sunday evening while I was out with the dog, I chatted with some of our neighbors about the early morning car mystery. One set of neighbors had heard the car, too. They assume that it's the local gendarmes who are patrolling at night after the gypsy "riots" a little over a week ago. I don't agree because I don't think the gendarmes would use someone's yard to turn around. Besides, if they were patrolling, I think they'd go all the way to end of the street before turning around.

I also talked to Bernard and Maryvonne, whose yard is where the car has been turning around. They haven't heard a thing, but while we were talking Bernard put two sawhorses across the access to his yard (he uses them in winter to keep cars off the wet grass). The car did not show up Sunday night.

I'm sure the neighbors think I'm nuts. Crazy American!

Interestingly, this morning at four-thirty a car came up the road. But I'm pretty sure it wasn't the same car as before because a) it drove right past Bernard's drive and turned around at the end of the road, and b) it didn't sound like a diesel engine. Not to mention that it was a half an hour late.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Get a grip

That's what this grape vine did. When the tendrils grab on to a support wire, they really hold on. Sometimes for years. I don't know if this is just from last year or whether it has accumulated over several years. The vines are pruned off the wires in the winter but the pruners leave these pesky bits where they are. They will eventually disintegrate and fall to the ground.

Dry vine tendrils wrapped around a support wire in the vineyard.

The patty-pan squash is looking like a big success. On Saturday we had them stuffed and baked (you can see it here). Delicious! I'm looking forward to more. The corn is looking good, but no tassels yet. We've got tomatoes but they're still green. Hot peppers are forming on their plants. The eggplants are in flower, too. Ken harvested a bunch of potatoes yesterday. So there's the garden round-up.

By the time you read this, the Tour de France will be over for another year. I watched quite a bit of it, but less in recent days. I always enjoy the aerial photography. The end of the Tour marks the mid-point of summer. The juillettistes will be packing up and heading home, the aoûtiens will be packing up and heading out to the beaches and mountains.

Next weekend will mark the big chasés-croisés, when these two groups pass each other on the roads as they exchange places. The next big event will come at the end of August: la rentrée. Back home, back to work, back to school. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

La vallée du Cher

Here's a view of the Cher River valley from up on the heights near our house. This view exists because the electric company keeps a clear swath cut down the hill for the wires that serve our hamlet. I removed the wires from this photo using Photoshop.

Looking across the Cher valley toward the north.

So now the four a.m. car mystery is pretty much solved, it seems. The problem is that I will hear that darned car every morning, at least while I have the windows open. I don't know if it's a new thing or not because before we started sleeping in the loft space, the bedroom was on the other side of the house. Maybe the car has been turning around there at four a.m. for months and I didn't know it!

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Periodic Puppy Pics

I mentioned the other day that we saw a deer in the meadow that used to be a donkey pasture. It was not alone and while it leaped through the meadow toward the woods, Callie chased its companion through the vineyard for a bit. Here she is right after giving up the chase.

That was fun! Can I have another one?

On Friday morning she saw and went after a rabbit among the vines. She can't catch any of these critters and she doesn't pursue them for very long. But it's good exercise for her.

She and Bertie were nose to nose again on Thursday. Callie is doing better; she knows she's not supposed to lunge at the cat, but I can tell she's trying really hard not to. Bertie just stands or sits in front of her and keeps his eyes on her. She actually gets her nose to his fur and sniffs. Sometimes, as one of you noted, I put the cat in my lap to show Callie that he's ok. I think she's starting to get the message.

Last night, at precisely 4:09 a.m., the car returned. Ken got up and looked. Indeed, it is using our neighbors' driveway to turn around. Ken speculates that it must be one of the young, newer neighbors three doors down going to work each morning. Their driveway is at a slight angle to the road, making it easier for them to back out, come up our way, then turn around to go back down the hill. Why they're using Bernard's yard to turn around rather than going to the end of the road (where it's wider) is anybody's guess. Probably they're lazy and think that another 150 meters is just too far to drive.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Thursday's harvest

Yesterday I noticed two normal sized courgettes (zucchini) in the garden so I picked them before they had a chance to get out of control. I also noticed two of the patisson (patty-pan) squash were ready, so I picked those as well. Now I'll have to look up some recipes for them.

These are the first patissons that I've ever grown.

The plants are full of blossoms and small fruit, so it promises to be a banner year for squash. I also picked a branch from some radishes that I let go to seed. The pods are maturing, but they're not ready yet. I need to let them get brown and a bit dried before I can harvest the seeds.

Radish seed pods that need to dry out more.

I'll either save them for next year or use them in cooking; I've read that radish seeds are good in salads and other dishes where you might use mustard seeds. I'd like to give that a try.

As for the neighbor mystery, I checked Thursday morning and his car was there. That means it wasn't him leaving his house at four in the morning the past three nights. I also know that whatever guests they had those days had left before I went to bed. I always check to see if there are cars parked at his place when I close up at bedtime.

So my new theory is that somebody was turning around using his driveway. It's a shaky theory because his driveway is difficult to spot at night; it's a simple opening in a hedge and it's not paved or otherwise marked. Most people that are lost turn around at the end of the road beyond our house where the road becomes a dirt path through the vineyard.

This morning I was not awakened by any noises. I did see the clock around four-fifteen, but there were no sounds of a car.

The mystery remains a mystery. I'll have to ask the neighbors one day if they heard the car, too.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

An indoor day

Nothing much to report. The sanding is mostly done in the loft. There are some bits left to do where the electric sander couldn't reach, but the majority is done. I've cleaned up after every sanding session but there is still dust. The floor needs special attention. It feels gritty.

The deck seen from the living room. The chairs are tipped in typical French fashion.

Except for walking Callie twice, I spent all of Wednesday inside. The weather system that came through brought rain off and on for much of the day. We got eleven millimeters. I kept the house closed up and it stayed relatively warm all day even though the high outside only reached the high sixties.

I was able to give away three more zukes (yay!) yesterday. I know there will be more ready in the garden today or tomorrow. A friend turned me on to a recipe for malfatti. They're Italian (malfatti means "badly made"), and kind of like gnocchi, only lighter and supposedly much easier to prepare. They're made with ricotta cheese and spinach. I'm thinking I might be able to make them with local goat cheese and garden chard, and maybe even grated zucchini. I'll let you know how that goes.

There has been nothing of interest these past few nights on any of the fifty million (I exaggerate) television channels we get. I kind of half-watched "Greystoke, the Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes" on Tuesday. Meh. That movie should get an award for the longest and most boring title ever. During the credits it said, "Introducing Andie MacDowell." It was 1984, after all. Her biography on Wikipedia says, "MacDowell was married... to fellow former model and rancher Paul Qualley." Former model and rancher? Just let that sink in for a moment.

Last night I popped the "Mamma-Mia!" DVD in and sang along with the ABBA songs. I know. I saw you roll your eyes just then. It's funny how Pierce Brosnan's singing makes Meryl Streep sound like an old Broadway pro.

I was awakened for the third night in a row at precisely four a.m. by the noise of what I thought was a truck in the road next to the house. I got up and looked out the window this time. The vehicle, a car and not a truck, was pulling out of our neighbors' yard. I think it's the neighbors' car. I had originally thought it was a truck because its diesel engine sounds pretty loud in the silence of the night. I wonder where an eighty-four year old man is going at four in the morning three nights in a row?

I'm going out to walk the dog in a few minutes so I will look to see if his car is there. If it is, and since I heard no evidence of him returning yet this morning, my theory is shot. If it's not him, then who is pulling out of his driveway in the middle of the night? Is a puzzlement!

That is all.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I think I'm in trouble

This is Tuesday's harvest. Ooops. I think I planted too many zucchini plants. These were not this big on Monday. I swear. I put the wine bottle in the photo to give you the scale. I see stuffed zucchini in my future. Also, I'm planning to grate and freeze as many as I can for use later in zucchini bread or zucchini balls.

Six courgettes (zucchini) from Tuesday. And they're just getting started.

The other reason I'm in trouble is that the pattypan squash is also starting to produce. What are we going to do? I know, but neighbors and friends can only take so much...

Since I took this photo, a friend dropped by and picked up two of the smaller squash. This morning I grated the three bigger ones and put them into the freezer. I harvested three more this morning.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

You may not like this

But I'm doing it anyway. It's part of life in the country, I suppose. Bertie, our new cat, brought home his first mouse on Monday. We took him in to be an outdoor cat, a mouser. And now he's living up to our expectations.

Bertie deposited his gift in the driveway. I praised him profusely, then disposed of the body.

Although, I must say, he brought this mouse home from the neighbors' yard across the street. Oh well. It's a start. I know from his previous owner that he's a good hunting cat. And now it seems he's started to feel right at home in his new territory.

He and Callie had a slight run-in this morning. She's still not used to the cat being here and wants to chase him. The situation is improving slowly, but very slowly. Callie makes some progress, then she goes after the cat when we're not looking. Bertie takes it in stride, knowing he can run faster than the dog.

I've found out, thanks to Susan (she's as smart as David Attenborough!), that this is not a mouse, but a vole. It would be called a campagnol in French, according to my research. But I've never heard that word used, so I'll have to ask my neighbors what they'd call it. I won't be showing it to them, however.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A nice day for a snail festival

Sunday's weather was picture perfect. Sunny, pleasant, dry. After I dropped Ken off at the train station I stopped in town to pick up some bread and to walk through the festival grounds. The flea market had been going on since earlier in the morning. I got there around eleven-thirty.

The lazy Cher River glides past the center of town on a perfect summer day.

There were a lot of people, many of them still arriving, making the street and the parking lot a bit of a zoo. I lucked out and got a space just as someone was leaving. The flea market was moderately interesting, but I didn't see anything that shouted "buy me." I did a real quick walk-through. People were beginning to line up at the food booths for lunch, and I could hear somebody reading announcements through the loudspeakers.

One section of the flea market next to the river.

I walked down by the river. The festival is held behind our town's château in a large field used for sports. It's not much of a château; it's more like a large stone barn. The town uses it for events and there are rooms inside that they rent to larger groups. Between the château and the river is a campground that's pretty much full this time of year.

Another view of the river, looking downstream.

I walked along the river, through the campground, and up through the main intersection to the bakery for my bread. Then I did another quick run through some more of the flea market on the way back to my car to come home.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Une libellule

That's French for dragonfly. There are a lot of these critters around in summer, but this is one of the biggest I've seen; it had une envergure (wingspan) of at least four inches, maybe more. It was hanging from a dried grape leaf out in the vineyard one morning a few days ago and didn't budge when I got close with the camera. I snapped a few pictures, but most of them were a bit blurry. This is the best I got.

A green and blue dragonfly soaking up the sun a few mornings ago.

Today is our town's annual festival, la fête des lumas (the snail festival). Now, we're not particularly known for snails around these parts so I don't know why our town has a snail festival. At any rate, it's not really about snails. It's a big flea market and music fest. There are two stages set up this year for performers that include singers and jazz groups, impersonators of famous French pop stars, flamenco and ballroom dancers, and comedians.

The festival also includes food at lunchtime and dinnertime. They will be serving snails, but also steaks and andouillette along with other stuff. I'm almost certain there will be wine.

I may stop by and have a walk around later this morning since it's a nice day. I'm taking Ken up to the train station for his trip up to see our friend CHM. I'm sure he'll be blogging about that as it happens.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Views from the summer vineyards

The vineyards are green and lush this time of year, and especially this year due to the hot weather and rain. The growers are out there constantly with their tractors and trimming machines slicing off the new growth to force the vines' energy into grape production.

Neatly trimmed rows of grapevines hug the contours above the river.

It looks to me like there will be no shortage of grapes this year. I'm noticing lots of bunches everywhere. That means that as they get closer to harvest, the growers will begin lopping off bunches to rot on the ground. They do this because the A.O.C. requirements are strict about yields. I suspect it has to do with quality; too many grape clusters on a vine dilute the vine's ability to produce quality bunches. This is pure speculation on my part.

Looking east back toward our house from the vineyard.

I love the lush look of the summer vineyard. Especially after the trimming when the vines are all the same shape and size. It's like a huge green carpet laid down on the curves of the land. Actually, I love all the stages, from bare trunks in winter through the bright hues of autumn.

Swaths of tall grasses and wildflowers in between parcels.

As for those bunches left on the ground, we talked to one grower and he said we were welcome to them. That year, Ken picked up a few and made gamay jelly. It's a shame to see the grapes go to waste! Now, if only we could pick up enough to make our own wine... nah.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The curvature of our earth

Ok, I exaggerate. I'm really referring to the curvature of the hill we live on. Our house sits up on the heights above the Cher, but on either side of the house are two ravines made by streams that run down to join the river. When seen from out in the vineyards beyond the house, the curve of the hill between the ravines is quite obvious.

Looking northeast. The taller pointy tree in the middle is on our property.

The road we live on runs up the spine of this hill. Beyond our house it becomes a dirt road which continues up into the vineyards where it joins with another paved road that goes out into the countryside beyond.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Bastille baked beans

Since Ken made a summery potato salad for lunch on Tuesday, I've had a craving for baked beans. Somehow in my mind those two things go together. So on Wednesday I made a pot of baked beans. I did cheat by using canned beans, but that's ok.

A pot of Bastille baked beans. I call them that because I made them on July 14.

I looked at three recipes for beans, one for Boston, one for New York, and one hybrid that Ken made up a few years ago. Then I did my own thing. I'm not even sure I can reproduce the recipe, but here's a list of the things that went in: sautéed lardons, onions, and garlic, thyme, bay leaves, ground cumin, ground allspice, dry mustard, salt and pepper, Worcestershire sauce, chopped chilpotle peppers in adobo sauce, ketchup, tomato paste, and a dash of maple syrup. I mixed it all into the beans and added some of the bean liquid, then baked it covered in the oven for a couple of hours, turning the heat down after the first hour. I stirred it every twenty minutes or so and added more bean liquid to keep it from becoming a hardened mass.

We ate it with Ken's potato salad on the side. The only things missing were hot dogs and hamburgers. But that would have been gluttonous, I think, and even less French.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Radishes, radishes, and more radishes

Do you like radishes? That's a difficult question to answer because there are so many varieties of radish, from the round red ones to the fat black radis noir to the large and long white daikon. But I'm talking about the radis rose, the pink radish, commonly found in French markets. They're sold in bottes (bunches), but they're very easy to grow at home.

Some of my home-grown radishes, tied up in a little bundle.

The best way (in my opinion) to eat them is right out of the garden. Spread a little sweet butter on a piece of French bread, dip a cleaned and trimmed radish into a little table salt, then take a bite of buttered bread and a bite of salty radish. It's an amazing combination. The pink radish has a little bite to it that the butter offsets. Tasty!

Radishes sprout quickly and are ready to harvest in a couple of weeks. My problem is that I plant too many at once, so we end up with way too many radishes that are ready to harvest. Many of them get too big to eat raw, and we end up cooking them. The radish greens get saved for salads or blended up into a pesto (the same way you make pesto with basil).

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The grapes in mid-July

The bunches of grapes out in the vineyard are now starting to resemble bunches of grapes. We've had a lot of rain this month, and I'll bet the growers are hoping it stops soon. Otherwise, the grapes may get too much water. I'm not sure how it works, though. I know that too much rain closer to harvest time is bad; it can reduce the sugar content of the grape or even plump the fruit up so much that it splits.

A bunch of grapes, still green. Will they be red or white when ripe?

But the rains are good for everything else: the grass, the trees, the vegetable garden. Not to mention the water table. It's mid-July and we've already had seventy-seven millimeters of rain since the first. That's more than the monthly average for here. This July is the wettest July at our house in five years (I started keeping track in 2005).

Monday, July 12, 2010

Mushrooms in love

Or are they just friends? Is this how little fungi are made? I noticed this threesome in the vineyard on Sunday morning. These are tiny things, about an inch tall, and I didn't notice the intimacy until after I took the picture.

Somebody always has to feel like a third wheel.

With the recent storms and accompanying rains, the ground is soaked. Perfect for mushroom reproduction. And there are a lot of these popping up out there right now.

The view from above.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

The corn is as high as a puppy dog's eye

Are you tired of garden pictures yet? This is one of four rows of sweet corn in this plot. I planted three varieties of corn including an early variety. These tallest stalks are that early variety; the others are still a bit shorter. Those are sunflowers in the back, and a row of radishes in between the corn rows.

Radishes, sunflowers, and early corn. It's not that early anymore, but I planted late.

Last season I had planted basil in pots to get it started in the cooler weather. I never got them out into the garden and they spent the whole summer in pots inside the cold frame. It was the best crop of basil that we had in years. So this year I'm doing it again intentionally. I've staggered the planting to have plants in different stages of growth. Since they're in the cold frame, I can cover them up if the weather cools down and they'll continue to grow.

The basil farm.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Artie chokes four for a dollar

That's the punchline of an old joke. I'll spare you the groan-inducing details. These four artichokes, however, are no joke. They're in our garden. Although they're not really good enough to eat, they look nice and will have brilliant blooms later this summer.

I'll take a dollar for these four. Any interest?

You can see the four-square vegetable garden in the background. I call it that because the garden is made up of four plots, each four meters square. Last year we added another plot along one side that breaks the symmetry, but gives us more planting space.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Will this be a plum year?

We have, or had, two plum trees in the back yard. When the storm named Xynthia hit at the end of February this year, the two trees fell over. Half of the roots are still in the ground even though the trees are horizontal. I thought that maybe they'd be stressed enough to put out a good crop of fruit before they die.

The plums are just starting to ripen. They'll turn mostly yellow when ripe.

So far, I think I was right. We decided to leave the trees where they fell over the summer to see what happens. The trees are still alive and are producing a nice looking crop of plums. We water the roots from time to time just for good measure.

A multitude of plums on one of the downed trees.

Once we harvest the fruit and make pies, preserves, and maybe some ice cream, I will cut the trees up for firewood. Then we'll have to fill in the holes and think about what to plant to replace them. Ken has grown some new plums and apricots from pits, so that's likely what will go into the ground next year.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Dispatches from the vegetable garden

I wanted to record some progress in the vegetable garden just in case we have a bad storm and it gets destroyed. It's unlikely, but you never know. If a hail storm develops over us we could lose the plants. And it would be a pity, because this year's garden looks very promising.

The first roma tomatoes. Get ready for sauce!

We did have a big thunderstorm last week and I thought the garden might have taken a lot of damage. Many of the plants were on their sides after the wind and heavy rain. But with only one exception, they all came back and look great. The tomatoes and squash are covered in blossoms and there is already some fruit. The peppers are getting their blossoms now; the eggplants have a little more growing to do.

A new zucchini blossom just opened up.

The second crop of radishes is coming along nicely, and the corn gets a little taller every day. If we're lucky and the weather cooperates, as it has so far this season, we'll be in for a great harvest.

Nasturtium volunteers under the towering zucchini plants.

In cat news, just after midnight last night I heard some rather frantic meows outside the window. I remembered that Bertie had not come home at bedtime; he was out and about. The meows grew more intense, almost like howls, and I realized there was more than one cat out there. Then bam! Cat fight. I threw on a pair of shorts and sneakers, grabbed a flashlight, and headed out. There they were, Bertie and one of the other neighborhood cats face to face in pouncing positions, almost growling at each other. Then they pounced and I watched the roiling ball of caterwauling cats roll a few feet across the grass.

Red- and yellow-stemmed Swiss chard (and a few weeds).

I got them separated and the neighbor cat ran. Bertie wandered around a little and finally came toward me. I scooped him up and took him inside to his bed. This morning I went outside and noticed twenty or so tufts of gray and white fur where the cats rumbled the night before. No black fur. I hope that other kitty is ok...

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A vineyard tour

Every summer around the end of June, a big English tour bus arrives and parks behind our back gate. The door opens and a group of young students heads out into the vines as part of their tour of the Domaine de la Renaudie wine cellars.

The annual British invasion of the vineyard behind our house.

Patricia Denis, the wife of the winemaker and the woman who runs the business, leads the group out into the vines to show them how it all starts. I presume it's and end-of-school-year trip for these lucky students. This year they're a bit late, having arrived in early July.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

In the mushroom caves

The tour lasted about an hour and the caves were a cool respite from the heat of the day. The tour guide was animated and she did all the explanations in English as well as French. There were quite a few anglophones on the tour with us. I'm glad my French is decent, however, because the guide's English was heavily accented and her translations were a bit off.

The processing plant and retail outlet for the local mushroom caves.

For example, she would translate grands chefs as "good cookers." In British English, a cooker is a stove. She also talked about mushrooms being sold in cans (tins if you're British), but the French word for cans is boîtes and it also means "box." So, she kept referring to mushrooms being sold in boxes. There were all kinds of little things like that in the English version of her tour which, coupled with her accent, made the English a bit difficult to understand.

One variety of mushrooms called le pied-bleu, or blue foot, for obvious reasons.

But I don't really think it mattered too much to the anglophones in the group. Everyone seemed to get the gist had a good time. Still, there was much more information in the French version of the tour. There are four or five varieties of mushroom grown in the caves at Bourré. We'd walk to where each variety was growing and stop for another installment of how mushrooms grow, how long it takes, how they're harvested (by hand), whether or not the mushrooms needed light (some yes and some no), and why some of the growth medium (composted and sterilized manure) was sitting directly on the ground while some was up off the ground in what looked like little bed frames (air circulation).

Our group standing around bales of compost with sprouting mushrooms.

And speaking of manure, the tour guide told us that the growth medium is used for only one batch of mushrooms before it is discarded. She said that the locals take the used compost for their gardens and that's why all the gardens in Bourré were so productive. Ken, not one to miss an opportunity, asked her when they gave it away and if anyone could get some. Yes, she said, but you have to live nearby. Well, I do, Ken told her. She said to just stop by any time to see if there was some available and they'd let him take it.

Champignons de Paris (button mushrooms) for sale in the boutique.

Free compost for the garden! And that's not just a load of...

Monday, July 05, 2010


Cream puffs filled with ice cream and topped with chocolate sauce are a classic French dessert that has been popular in the United States for quite some time. I've made them once or twice since I learned that cream puffs are easy to make. The difference this time is that in addition to making the cream puffs, I also made the ice cream that fills them.

Cream puffs drying just prior to cutting off the tops.

Cream puffs start out as water (1 cup) and butter (about 75 grams) in a pot on the stove. Once they boil, flour is added (1 cup) and stirred over low heat until it forms a ball that separates from the sides of the pot. It cooks until it begins to dry out, then it cools for a short time. Eggs (four) are added one at time and stirred in. The dough goes into a pastry bag and is piped out into medium-sized balls. These get painted with an egg wash and after a short rest (about 20 minutes) are baked at 375ºF for about thirty minutes.

The puffs need to dry out, so after baking they sit in the oven, turned off and with the door ajar, for another twenty to thirty minutes. Then they're cut open at the top and any soft dough is scooped out (and eaten by the cook) leaving a completely hollow puff.

Assembled profiteroles with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sauce.

The puffs can be filled with whipped cream or ice cream. I made a simple vanilla ice cream (cream, sugar, eggs, vanilla) in our ice cream maker. Ken put together a tasty chocolate sauce using powdered cocoa. Three profiteroles on a plate is the usual serving. Delicious!

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Funky Feline Fotos

The heat of the recent couple of weeks has affected the animals a bit. They are very quiet during the day, taking refuge in the cool parts of the house. Callie spends most of the day in the utility room alternating from lying on a comfortable rug to lying on the cool concrete floor. Bertie has been spending his days in the garage napping.

Bertie, seen from our deck, in the neighbor's yard across the street.

Of course, Callie still gets her two walks a day. With the heat she's been not wanting to go far, preferring to turn back toward home before we finish our trip. Bertie, who doesn't get "walked," has been staying out at night wandering around. He's either hunting, exploring, or just hanging out at the Kit Kat Klub. But he's usually back home in the mornings, ready for his breakfast.

Something suddenly gets his attention...

After he eats, Bertie lounges around on his bed and accepts the occasional belly rub. Since his garage window is open, he's free to come and go as he likes. Every now and then we'll see him when he's out. He likes to nap at the top of our next-door neighbor's exterior stair. There's little traffic there in the afternoons and he can see our deck and keep an eye on us (and Callie). Sometimes we see him sauntering down the road. Other times he checks out the other neighbor's field across the street, as he's doing in this series of pictures.

...and he's off to check it out.

The two animals still won't hang out together. Callie still wants to chase Bertie when she sees him. But they can be in the same area together for a few minutes as long as we keep Callie under constant control. But one small lapse in our vigilance and she lunges for the cat. I think he prefers the wilds of the night to the company of the dog.