Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pretty In Purple

It looks purple to me. Maybe it's deep blue, or violet. Whatever you call this color, these guys are blooming all around the vineyards right now. But I think their flower time is nearing its end. Soon the seeds will be set and we won't see the flowers again until next spring.

These resemble bellflower, but they're on a stalk.

It's hard to believe that this is the last day of May. This spring has, so far, been a good one here in our part of France. Except for that nasty cold and rainy week we just had. But Saturday was glorious and today is expected to be very much the same. The week ahead looks pretty nice, too.

So we're back in the yard working, weeding, and otherwise whiling away the hours. Which is kind of a pain because I'm also spending time in front of the tv watching French Open tennis. Fourth round play, les huitièmes de finale, gets under way today!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Identify This And Win... gratitude. That is all. I am not a wealthy man. But I am rich beyond belief, because I get to see stuff like this almost daily:

Do you recognize these?

There are many of these out in the vineyard, but I've never known what they are. I know one or two of you out there will know, or will at least be able to point me in the right direction.

Spring in the vineyard is an amazing time. So is Fall. Winter and Summer are great, too. There's always so much to see. Most of the time you have to look closely, but that's the sport. To spend time in a seemingly static environment and notice all the change that constantly happens.

It ain't Times Square or Les Halles, but it does have it's own brand of excitement. No, really, it does.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Adaptive Re-Use

This is not exactly how the phrase was used back in my urban planning days, but it's the same concept. These wooden posts were formerly used to support the wires that hold up grape-laden vines out in the vineyard. As the posts rot over time, they're pulled out and replaced.

Old posts as bridges.

Often the old posts go home with the growers and end up (I presume) in the fireplace. But this year I noticed that they're being used as little bridges to help the tractors cross the drainage ditches alongside the road.

Pretty cool, huh? Well, I thought so.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

An Orky Day

Well, I mean une orchidée, or an orchid. There are many varieties of wild orchid growing all around us here in central France. We have some in our yard, but mostly they grow out in meadows, and along roadsides and streams.

The greater butterfly orchid. I think.

This is one that I recognized from Susan's recent post about orchids at Days on the Claise. She and Simon are wild orchid experts and seek them out every year. Here's a bit more info about this particular orchid on their Loire Valley Nature site.

It is either une platanthère verdâtre (platanthera chlorantha) or une platanthère à deux feuilles (platanthera bifolia). Apparently the two varieties are easily confused. I'm not enough of an expert to know which variety this one is, but I suspect it's the former.

A closer shot of the flower heads.

This patch grows in a small field up among the vineyards. The field is in a flat spot of land that probably holds enough moisture to please the orchids. That's where I was able to photograph these specimens. There were about ten or twelve distinct plants, if I remember correctly.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Pink Roses

Just thought I'd share a picture of some of our roses. These were already here when we bought the house back in 2003 and they're still going strong. There are at least four of the same rose in different locations around the house.

A close-up, kind of blurry.

Every winter I trim them down, so all the growth you see is this year's. I'm not sure I know how to prune them correctly, so I just do what I do. It doesn't seem to matter since they flower every year just fine. And if I'm good about dead-heading them, we get about three blooms a year right on into December (if it doesn't get too cold).

Rose bush with chair.

We have some red roses, too, but they're not in a good place and haven't looked very good for a few years. I think we'll try to relocate them one of these days. In between all of the other chores we have on the list. There is always too much yard work to do!

This one's a little darker than the others.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Not Callie's Paw

There are many dogs who get walked through the vineyard depending on the day and the time of day. There are even some dogs who hang out while their masters work on the vines. Sometimes we meet them, sometimes we try to avoid them. It depends on the dogs in question.

It's been quite muddy lately, so there are lots of prints.

Callie's pretty good with other dogs. She really likes to run and play. She is a submissive girl, having been the runt of her litter, and is rarely aggressive. And she's become very good at coming when I call her to leave the dogs and continue on our way. Most of the time.

The evidence of other dogs is always out there, of course. Some of it is visual, like this paw print from a much larger dog than Callie. Other evidence is invisible, like all the smells that Callie seeks out during her walks.

My favorite time to walk is first thing in the morning. There's rarely anybody about, and we often see roe deer or hares, and sometimes get to chase them.

In other animal news, a bird crashed into one of our windows on Monday morning. I was sitting at the computer, and BAM! I looked up to see a small cloud of feathers outside the window, like you'd see in a cartoon. Then I got up, opened the window and looked on the ground. The poor thing was down there, twitching, with its head curled under its body.

I thought that maybe it had broken its neck. I decided to leave it for the moment since it was still alive, and putting it out of its misery didn't appeal to me much. I checked every now and then over the next couple of hours. At one point it was holding its head up and looked up at me when I opened the window (so its neck wasn't broken), and the next time I looked it had gone.

I'm thinking that it was seriously stunned, but not fatally injured.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Am I Blue?

During our walk on Thursday we saw many little butterflies flitting from place to place. Are butterflies the only things that "flit," I wonder? Surely not. This little blue one stopped flitting long enough for me to take three images before it moved on.

Am I blue? You'd be, too, if each plan with your man done fell through.

Of course, only one of the pictures came out; the others are blurry. Another reason to take several shots in a row while you can! And I have no idea what the name of this little critter is, nor what it looks like in its caterpillar stage. But it's pretty nonetheless.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Today's The Day!

The French Open tennis tournament at Roland-Garros begins today! I'm not going up to Paris this year, so it probably won't rain like it has the last two times I had tickets. But not to worry. There is so much wall-to-wall tv coverage of the tournament that I'm not going miss anything.

The cover of this week's tv magazine. And, no matter what else is happening, there's always room to mention Johnny (Hallyday).

Three of the national tv channels take turns during the day covering matches. Then there's the Eurosport channel which does a lot of coverage, too. Between France Télévisions and Eurosport, there's some choice as to which matches to watch, at least in the early rounds.

So now I've got my draw sheet printed out and I'm ready to watch. Game, set, match!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A Fun Afternoon

One of the continuing pleasures of blogging is actually meeting some of the people whose blogs we read and who read our blogs. On Thursday, Leesa (News From France) and her husband Alex came down from Paris for lunch.

Alex and Ken on the deck enjoying wine and nibbles.

I met Leesa and Alex back in February while they were on a trip to near-by Cheverny. Ken was in North Carolina and missed their visit. So we agreed that they would come back for lunch one day when the weather got better.

Apéritif fare: nuts, olives, and foie de morue (cod liver) on toast.

Well, Thursday was the appointed day, but the weather did not cooperate. We had thunderstorms all morning and our plan to sit out back and barbecue got scrapped. Still, the rain stopped and we were able to have our apéros out on the front deck.

Leesa took this photo of me and Ken.

Lunch started out with an entrée of sliced smoked salmon rolled and stuffed with céleri rémoulade and fresh herbs. After that we had oven-roasted chicken marinated in white wine and shallots (that was supposed to be grilled, but for the rain), and bow-tie pasta in a radish leaf pesto with chunks of local white asparagus. We followed it with a green salad and some local goat cheese.

Leesa and Alex as we begin our walk in the vineyard.

After lunch, we took a nice walk out in the vineyard. Leesa loves to take photos and post them on her blog -- I encourage you to look through the photos she took on Thursday here, here, and here. Leesa had a good time taking pictures of Callie!

Leesa, Ken, and Alex inspecting the vines.

One of the many highlights of the day was the lemon cheesecake that Leesa made for our dessert. She also brought some tasty strawberries that she sliced and marinated in honey to top the cake. It was divine!

Leesa's home made cheesecake. A real treat!

Ken took more photos of the food than I did, and he'll be posting them on his blog over the next few days. You can see the first installment here.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Photo Du Jour : Pre-Fluff

Just about to open, this fluffy seed packet will soon be releasing its precious cargo to the four winds.

Ready to go.

Although I'm not certain the cargo is particularly precious. There are a bazillion of these out in the vineyard.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Clouds. Lotsa Dem.

White an' puffy. Ya know, clouds.

I don't know if anyone will remember, but in an episode of that American t.v. comedy from the late 1970s called "Taxi," Danny DeVito's character, Louie De Palma, tries to recite a poem to Elaine. He stands in the garage and waves his hands above his head while reciting those lines, obviously making it up as he goes. It still makes me laugh.

At least these clouds didn't rain on us.

But these clouds don't make me laugh. Quite the opposite right now. We've seen way too many of them this past week, and they've rained all over us. We've had more than a month's worth of rain in ten days, and everything is soggy.

If it dries out for a while, we'll be ok. But more rain and damp will just start making our garden plants rot in the ground, and we don't want that. Especially after all the work we've done to get the garden in this year.

Clouds, by Louie De Palma (Taxi)

Cascading. Cascading.
Cascading water. A waterfall.
Clouds. Lots of them. White and puffy.
You know, clouds.
And flowers, covered with dew.
And trees hanging over.
And you and me, naked on a rock.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Another Walk In The Vineyard

Are you ready for some more boring botanical blogging? Or some silly alliteration? I sure hope so. Many people blog what they do and see in their exciting and always-on-the-move urban environments. Our sleepy hamlet and woods and vineyards are much less dynamic, but I enjoy the calm.

I like the subtle blue tint of this tiny flower.

Spring is just beginning its subtle shift into summer. I wish that the weather reflected that, but so far it's only the plants that are moving on. Early bloomers are gone while the late bloomers continue to work their magic on the bees and other pollinating insects. And the summer flowers are starting to show up, however slowly.

This flower reminds me of rock rose, but the foliage doesn't.

The next few posts will contain images from a recent walk with Callie on a mostly cloudy afternoon. I hope you enjoy them. As usual, I'm not certain what any of the plants/flowers are. I welcome identifications from those of you who recognize them!

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

State Of The Grapes

The grape vines continue to leaf out, and now there are even flower buds! Each of these buds should become a single grape and each cluster should become a bunch. Add them all up and you get glass after glass full of velvety nectar.

A tiny cluster of grape blossoms.

It's been very wet and the growers are grumbling. Too much water and humidity is the perfect recipe for leaf mold. So they're out there whenever they can be spraying the vines with something called bouillie bordelaise. It's a mixture of copper and lime that prevents mold, and we understand that it's ok to use in organic/biodynamic grape growing.

Getting ready to flower.

Last week I actually bought some for our own garden. Yesterday, I sprayed the tomatoes to help keep them mold-free. We'll keep our fingers crossed that it works.

In case I haven't mentioned it recently, the vineyard does not belong to us. We're just lucky enough to live next to it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Photo Du Jour : Field

Here's Callie checking out the donkey paddock on the down slope of the vineyard. We haven't seen the donkey in there lately, but the owners of the parcel did mow the tall grass down earlier this spring.

Callie checks it out.

The weather on this day is as it has been for the past few. That is overcast, damp, and cool. With the added attraction of a stiff wind. Not great for taking pictures.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Periodic Puppy Pics

While we were having good weather, Callie got used to hanging out in the back garden. She's not the only one. She enjoys curling up under the table, at my feet, when I'm sitting sipping wine.

Hanging out on the grass under the table.

I had the camera on the table this day, and just snapped a few. She looked up once, but I wasn't fast enough to get a clear shot. So I just have a bunch like this of the top of her head. Here's another:

Still sittin' here.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Garden Interlude

On Wednesday evening, Ken and I had the pleasure of meeting an Australian couple who read our blogs. Sue and Leon are from the Melbourne area and are in France for a month-long holiday. They've been to France a couple of times before.

Ken (left), Sue, and Leon in our back garden.

The weather was warm and humid all day, but nice. Just as they arrived, however, it began to rain. So we started out with drinks and nibbles on the sheltered front deck. The rain didn't last, and we moved our little feast out back to the garden.

We had a great time chatting about all manner of things. And we got to practice our Australian, mate. I can't think of the last time I got to use the word wombat in conversation. All the while a gentle thunderstorm rumbled by off to the west providing a little background "music" for us. All too soon it was time to say good-bye. We hope they'll come back again the next time they're in France.

Blogging has introduced us to so many different people from so many different places that we probably would not have occasion to meet otherwise. Ken says it makes all of us bloggers a bit like celebrities. People that we don't know read about us and our lives. Of course, we control what they read and see. We are our own paparazzi.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Kitchen Window Box

We have a window box outside the kitchen window. There are two boxes, actually, side by side. In our first three years here, we filled them with geraniums (I don't have a photo from 2003, the first year). Geraniums just might be the national flowers of France. You see them everywhere, in the cities and in the country, nationwide.

2004 on the left, 2005 on the right.
Both years we had geraniums in the boxes.

But then I started to notice a few rebels here and there who put flowers-that-are-not-geraniums in their pots and window boxes. I felt the call to join their ranks. So in 2006 we started experimenting with petunias. But not just any petunias. These are surfinias, or trailing petunias.

2006 (left and right) was the first year we tried surfinias.

They can look great as they grow and tumble out of the window box, putting on a nice show of color against the house. The geraniums tend to grow upward, which was a problem for us when we wanted to close the shutter on the kitchen window.

In 2007 we went back to geraniums.

We've since changed the window and the shutter. Now the shutter simply rolls down, so geraniums are no longer in the way. But I still like the surfinias, so that's what we got again this year. Who knows, we may go back to geraniums next year. We're full of surprises around here.

In 2008 we put in surfinias again, in two different colors!

We've changed the soil in the boxes since we've been here, and this year I added some new soil to keep things fresh. I also incorporated some fertilizer beads since I frequently forget to feed the plants when I water them. And I have to water them since the roof overhang keeps most of the rainwater off the window box.

2009 is another surfinia year. This time, hot pink.
These are newly planted and haven't yet grown out of the boxes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

La Pivoine, Ouverte

I promised I'd try to take a good picture of the peony when the flowers opened. Here's what I came up with:

One of the peony flowers.

It wasn't as difficult as I thought it might be, probably because I made the shot on a very overcast day and used the tripod. Shooting these successfully on a sunny day is nearly impossible -- at least for me.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Columbine. I never knew these flowers until I moved into this house. There they were, coming up in a bed, surrounded by weeds. In fact, at first I thought they were weeds themselves, until they flowered. Then I had to figure out what they were.

Pink columbine.

They come up every year in the same spot. One year I collected the seeds and tried to grow them in a different location, with no success. But I'm going to try again this year. Why not? I wonder if the seeds should be spread in the fall and allowed to over-winter in order to germinate. Last time I saved the seeds and kept them in the house during the winter.

Ours are in two colors, this pink and a darker blue/purple.

Strangely, when I looked up "columbine" in Wikipedia, the first three entries were "Columbine Massacre." Apparently mass murder is more popular than flowers. Ah, humanity.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


The iris. We have many irises in the garden, but they're not doing all that well. Our friend Sue divided some of them back in 2006, but that didn't make them bloom any better. I need to do some research to see if they need something they're not getting to look better.

A purple bearded iris.

Still, the ones that do bloom look pretty nice. The aforementioned friend, Sue, lives in the Sierra Foothills of California and has abundant irises on her property. They're spectacular bloomers and the only thing she does is divide them every now and then. Where she lives is hot and dry, and they thrive.

Where we live is cold and wet, comparatively, and our irises don't do much. But other people in our town have beautiful irises, so I know they will do well here. I need the secret.

Update: I just read that irises like well-drained soil. The soil in our garden is heavy clay and needs serious amendment for many plants. We've been amending the soil annually in the vegetable garden, but hardly anywhere else.

So, what to do? I suppose I should dig up the irises later this summer and get a load of sand to mix into the beds. Or, maybe I should prepare just one bed and move all the rhizomes to that single location. Any thoughts out there?

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Le Tamaris

Tamarisk or tamarix in English. I thought this was a desert shrub since that's the first place I ever encountered one. We saw plenty of them in the southern California deserts. So I was surprised to see them here in the Loire Valley.

Our tamarisk in flower.

Not only do we have one in our back yard, but several of our neighbors do as well. In addition to the desert and Mediterranean varieties, there is also a variety that does well in cooler, wetter climates.

In spring, the tree flowers in a very soft, subtle pink color before the thin leaves come out.

Like many of the plants in our garden, the tamarisk was not planted in the right place. The previous owner didn't seem to anticipate how big certain plants and trees would eventually get. It had grown into a good-sized tree and blocked the view of the bay laurel. Ken and I agreed to get rid of it to help open up the view. I cut it completely down (and eventually used the wood in the stove), but the next year the tree re-sprouted from the trunk.

So for now, we're keeping it, but trimmed very low. That way, we get the beauty of the flowers and also the views we enjoy.

Friday, May 08, 2009


The artichoke. Three of our original five plants are still thriving growing, although they don't produce much, and what they do produce is not all that satisfying. We don't feed these plants, so that may be why. Still, they look nice in the garden.


The chokes they sell at the markets around here, in season, are much more attractive and have much more to eat on them. Our dinky little chokes pale in comparison. So once these are gone, they're gone. We're allowing sage plants to take their place.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

La Pivoine

The peony. We have two stands of them in our back garden. We relocated one several years ago, and it did fine. But I found I wanted to relocated it again this year, so I did, and it'll take another year or two to get back to its former glory.

A peony flower getting ready to open.

The other stand is quite large and needs to be divided. So I'll do my internet research and figure out what the best time for doing that is. Right now, as you can see from the photo, they're starting to open up. The opened flowers are of such an intense red that they never photograph very well.

I'll have to mess around with them in Photoshop and see if I can get the color right.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Le Pissenlit

The dandelion in English. This one is in the back garden and I took the photo on Tuesday, during a period of overcast. I might have done better to take the tripod out, but I was lazy.

Half the seeds have blown away.

This is the time of year when all, or at least most, of the dandelions in our yard and out in the vineyard have flowered and made their seeds. One small gust of wind and half or all of the little parachutes detach and fly away. They also disperse when animals brush up against them and carry away the seeds in their fur.

The same flower seen from above.

Animals like, say, puppy dogs named Callie.

I'm afraid there's no denyin'
I'm just a dandy lion,
a fate I don't deserve.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Rain Water

When we moved into this house back in 2003, there were many things about it that struck me as curious. Remember, both Ken and I had spent most of our adult lives living in cities and had to make a kind of adjustment to our new country life. Well, we live in the country, but ours is not really a country life; we're not farming or raising animals or anything like that.

The rain barrel at the bottom of the downspout.

I found all manner of tools and things in our garage and garden shed left by the previous owner. I had no idea what most of them were for, or why one needed them. I even found a scythe, of all things. Over time, I've come to learn about most of what I found, and even use some of it. Much of it was old and broken or on the verge of breaking, so out it went, but I kept the stuff that looked to be in good shape. I even kept the scythe.

One item that I thought was kind of interesting was this molded fiberglass rain barrel sitting under a downspout on one corner of the house. It has holes drilled on one side, top and bottom, through which bits of garden hose are inserted. The one at the bottom drains out the water and was capped, the one at the top is for overflow. There were also two large plastic barrels similarly rigged up to one of the downspouts on the garden shed out back.

All the barrels were full of water when we moved in. They were also full of mosquito larvae, decaying leaves, and the bloated bodies of drowned lizards. Since we moved in during a heat wave, with little or no rain at all that summer, it didn't take us long to empty the barrels to water plants and, afterward, we pretty much forgot about them.

The connection between the barrel (green) and garden (yellow) hoses.

I disconnected the barrels out by the shed, and I left the drain hose uncapped on the barrel by the house so that no water would actually collect in it. And I left it like this for the years since (I lost the cap). But just the other day I re-thought this whole thing. Now that we are connected to the town sewer system, our water rates have increased tremendously to pay for sewage treatment and such, and it seems a shame not to take advantage of rain water for the garden.

Among the stuff I saved from the garden shed was a collection of hose connectors. In France, garden hoses are sold bare. That is, there are no permanent connectors attached to them as in the US. The ends of the hoses are just cut off. But, every hardware store has a whole selection of every kind of connector you can imagine, and gardeners use them to connect lengths of hose together and to connect hoses to spigots, sprayers, sprinklers, etc.

So, I figured, I could use those "snap-to"connectors that were still in good working order to connect my garden hose to the rain barrel when it's full of water and use that water in the garden. I swear, my mind is like a steel trap. One that's been rusted shut, mostly. You see, the previous owner had already rigged all of this up, but I had dismantled it. Partly because it was old and in very bad shape. Partly because the previous owner was a bricoleur and rigged things up in funny ways. And partly because, with my city eyes, I didn't quite get it.

So I hooked it up this past week and it works. Pretty much. The garden is just slightly lower in elevation than the rain barrel, so the flow rate isn't all that high. But still, it's free water, and it's much more ecological than using treated water on the garden. Oh, I'll still have to water with the expensive stuff (at least it's not Perrier), but I can supplement with rain water and that will help.

Now I've become the bricoleur. Ah, tradition.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Periodic Puppy Pics

It was two years ago today that we brought Mademoiselle Callie home from the breeder's. I forgot what a cute little thing she was. To wit:

Callie's first day home, ten weeks old, 3 May 2007.

Now she's all grown up. Thank goodness, because I thought I was going to have to kill her during that first year of puppyhood. And our dining room chairs are adorned with lovely teeth marks to remind us should we ever go mad enough to think another puppy would be nice.

Callie two years later.

Also during her first year, Callie managed to chew up and destroy every dog toy that we bought for Collette more than fifteen years ago. Collette never got interested in dog toys. Callie can't get enough of them. Thankfully, she has learned what is a toy and what isn't. And she rarely wraps her jaws around the dining room furniture any more.

Maybe it was all that screaming I did.

Friday, May 01, 2009

Feuilletée A La Rhubarbe

What do you do with leftover pâte feuilletée (flaky pastry)? I made a couple batches of this buttery dough in January when I was making home made galettes. I folded up the leftover scraps of dough and put them into the freezer.

Assembling the tarts.

I was, as I often am, inspired by a chef on Cuisine TV to use the dough with our current crop of rhubarb. I didn't make what he made, but his recipe gave me the idea. I thawed out some of the dough and went outside and harvested some rhubarb.

Fresh from the oven!

My plan was to make tartelettes, or small individual tarts. I trimmed and cut the rhubarb and macerated it for a couple hours in sugar. Then I rolled out the dough and cut it into circles, using a water glass for a guide. I used a second, smaller glass to measure a ring inside the larger circle, then scored around this ring with the point of a sharp knife.

Tart and tasty rhubarb tartelette.

Inside the scored ring went the macerated rhubarb pieces, which I then painted with a strawberry glaze. The scored ring allows the outer part of the tart to rise up independently of the part with the fruit on it.

They came out beautifully and were extremely tasty little desserts. If I were serving these to guests, I'd add either a puddle of crème anglaise on the plate or a quenelle (football shaped scoop) of vanilla ice cream on the side.