Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Waning summer

The signs are everywhere. Wildflowers are setting seed and fading away. Grapes are maturing on the vine. Certain poplars are going yellow and dropping their leaves. And the days are tangibly shorter.

Just one blossom remains on this wild chicory plant. Many others are totally bare already.

Schools start up again in about three weeks signaling the end of summer vacations for a lot of people. It won't be long before we start to hear the harvesters out in the vineyards.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

Tasha is doing well on her walks. The only thing I fear is cars and tractors. She wants to chase them and I need to train her not to. Callie was afraid of vehicles and sat down whenever one went by. But Tasha is her own dog and wants to chase everything that moves. Whenever a car goes by our road, Tasha runs out and tries to chase it. She's inside the yard, so she can't get hurt, but if she sees one while we're out, who knows what could happen.

No cars to worry about here. But just behind us is the road.

Luckily, so far, there haven't been many instances of cars while we walk. I just need to pay attention and keep her close when there's a possibility of a car going by. This fall the harvesters will be out in the vineyard. That will be a challenge.

Monday was a relatively hot day, and Monday night was particularly warm. Last week it was so chilly that the heat came on one morning. This morning the low is 22.5ºC (over 72ºF). It's so warm and dry that I went for our morning walk in shorts and a tee-shirt, something that happens only a few times a year.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Raindrops on grape leaves

And whiskers on kittens! Oh, forgive me if I've used that one before. We had some light rain on Saturday night and on Sunday morning everything was covered with little raindrops. So there will now be lots of photos with raindrops.

Raindrops on grape leaves.

One thing I noticed on my Sunday morning walk was how the flowers and plants and trees are starting to look all autumnal. We've still got more than a month until fall arrives, officially. I guess we had an early summer, so now we're going to have an early fall. And I'm hoping for a short winter. Ha!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Interpretive dance

That's what I thought when I saw these bare branches among the oaks. It looks like it's dancing, doing its own thing. None of the oaks are bent this way. I wonder what it was.

Fosse or Tharp?

Last night was still and muggy, even though it wasn't all that warm. I didn't sleep well, even with a fan on. Tossed and turned a lot. I think tonight I'll open a few more windows and use the bigger fan to get the air moving more.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Grapes and lace

This is the season for Queen Anne's lace, known in France as carotte sauvage (wild carrot). It's growing especially thick this year. In fact, I don't remember ever seeing the spaces between the rows of grape vines this crowded with it. It's probably just that the growers are not mowing it down or are cutting back on the use of herbicides.

The vine parcel just outside our back gate. That's our garden shed on the right.

Of course, not all the parcels look like this. Some are quite bare (at ground level) from herbicides, others have been plowed to uproot the weeds and wildflowers, and still others have been mowed to keep the weeds under control. I wonder what difference it all makes to the vines (although using fewer chemical herbicides is probably a good thing for the environment over all).

Friday, August 11, 2017

Typical walk

This is kind of place we walk with Tasha every day. We often take the dirt roads, like this one, that the growers use to get into certain parcels. Just as often, we walk in the space between the grape vines and the woods that the tractors use to turn around at the end of the rows of vines. Tasha is learning to wait while we stop for photos.

We walk in a lot of sandy places. When they're wet, well, you can imagine.

We've been lucky (in a sense) this year because it's been pretty dry over all. All too often these paths are wet, either with heavy dew or just plain rain. Wet paws pick up sand and mud. Callie got very dirty and needed a wash-down nearly every day. So far, Tasha doesn't seem to get as dirty as Callie did even though she's much closer to the ground. Our evening walk on Thursday was rainy, but all I had to do was give Tasha a quick once-over with a towel to dry her off.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Another vineyard view

It rained a lot on Wednesday, mostly in the middle of the day. While it's more than a month away, it feels a lot like fall right now. Fortunately, neither one of us had to walk Tasha in the heavy rain. Just a few sprinkles here and there.

Dark puffy clouds march across the sky above the vineyards.

The squash from the garden are starting to pile up. We have a few plans to use some of it and to give some of it away, but we're probably going to have to do some freezing soon. Not to mention the green beans. We have a bunch to blanch and freeze (and some to eat today), but I need to go out and harvest some more before they get too big. And the tomatoes are starting!

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Summer in the vineyards

It's been a strange summer, so far. Even though we've had brief periods of rain, I think the region is under a drought advisory. There are water use restrictions in place, but we haven't been notified of anything specific. I read that in certain areas, watering lawns and gardens is forbidden, but people can water their vegetable gardens during certain hours of the day.

The grasses are dry, otherwise it doesn't look like a drought. But looks can be deceiving, right?

The rain we do get is not enough to alleviate the drought conditions over all, but it does put a damper on our walks. Tasha and I will probably be walking entre les gouttes (between the raindrops) this morning.

Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

She was ready for her close-up. So I took it. Isn't she the cutest? On one of our recent walks, she saw a deer in the vineyard and chased it for a while. Now she looks down every vine row she passes, looking for another one.

I was in the right place at the right time with the right lens.

She will never catch a deer, of course. But her herding instinct forces her to chase them. And anything else that moves.

Monday, August 07, 2017

Too soon?

It's hard to see leaves turning color in early August. Summer isn't over! Fortunately, though, this is pretty normal. Here and there in the vineyard, the leaves on certain vines will start to turn very early, even though the vast majority are still a very lush green. And so are the trees. So fall is not here yet.

Grape leaves turning color in the vineyards behind our house.

I don't know what causes this to happen, but I see it every year. And some vines die altogether during the growing season. Most of those will be marked and yanked out after the harvest then replaced with a new vine. In some cases, a long cane from the neighboring vine will be buried in the ground with a few buds poking up above ground. The cane stays attached to its parent and gets its nourishment that way. Roots will grow below ground and a new vine is the result. I read that that kind of propagation is called "layering" in English, marcottage in French.

Sunday, August 06, 2017

Tomatoes

I picked the first tomatoes from the garden on Saturday. They came from a volunteer vine, one I didn't plant, that sprouted from a seed dropped last year. The tomatoes are small Juliets, like cherry tomatoes but long instead of round. I also picked a few more lemon squash, another zucchini, and a big basket of green beans.

Green tomatoes on the vine. Don't mind the weeds.

The rest of the tomato crop is starting to ripen. There are three or four 'maters going red out there. Soon we'll get to enjoy fresh ones for salads and sandwiches and stuffing and, when they get too numerous to handle (if we're lucky), tomato sauce for the freezer.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

A summer view

This is what our hamlet looks like this time of year. Summer is in full swing, and the weather is, as usual, unpredictable. But the vineyards look lush and very green. Tasha has a good time running under the vines and up and down the rows.

Our hamlet with the Cher valley in the background.

Ken will tell you more on his blog, but on Friday I drove up to Contres and bought a new freezer. Ours is getting up there in years and we feel like we should have a new one in case the old one decides to die. The new freezer is not a chest style like the old one. It is tall and has drawers and shelves, like a refrigerator. Maybe that way we won't have as many UFOs (Unidentified Frozen Objects) lurking down in the depths.

Friday, August 04, 2017

Ripening

I mentioned the other day that I've seen the red grapes starting to turn color, so I went out on Thursday with the camera. It's hard to tell how things will go this year. First there was the April freeze, then the alternating heat waves and cold spells. Some of the grapes look normal, others look smaller than usual, and some parcels look like they have very few bunches in them.

These red grapes go from green to pink to "blueberry" blue in the course of their ripening.

It must be very stressful to be a grower and to be dependent on the weather for your livelihood. Very few years are perfect, and the years can be very different one to the next. Temperature, rainfall, sunlight, storms, there's always something to worry about.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Stuffed lemon squash

When your garden gives you summer squash in abundance, you have to find different ways of dealing with it. One way is to give some away to your neighbors, which we have done. We're lucky to have generous neighbors who share the fruit from their plum trees with us, so it's nice to be able to give something back.

Lemon squash cut in half, steam-blanched, then hollowed out, ready for stuffing.

Next to slicing and grilling, stuffing summer squash is one of my favorite ways to eat them. These are small round lemon squash. We only have one plant (given to us by a friend), but it is prolific. The stuffing in this case was easy: Ken cut open some spicy chorizette sausages and cooked up the meat with squash pulp and small bread cubes. The sausages are made by the butchers in our local Super U market and they're often on sale in the summer months.

The stuffed squash went right into the freezer to be eaten in the coming weeks.

We also have three standard zucchini plants producing now, and we've grilled and stuffed them as well, most recently with a ground chicken stuffing (Ken posted about them on his blog today). That was tasty. If we get tired of eating the squash, I will grate and freeze them for making things like zucchini bread and fritters in the fall.

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

A fine lunch

On Monday, Ken, Tasha, and I went across the river to enjoy lunch at the home of friends C. and M. who were hosting frequent visitors from Australia, L. and S. (who are also frequent commenters on this blog). The weather cooperated and we spent the whole afternoon under the canopy in C. and M.'s back yard.

Quite a selection! Yum.

Lunch started with a little bubbly and some nibbles. The entrée dishes were endive leaves stuffed with crab salad, and a generous platter of smoked salmon. Next was a palate cleanser of apple sorbet with calvados (apple brandy). The main course was a tajine of chicken with apricots and prunes, served with couscous. For dessert we had a chocolate mousse followed by coffee. Then M. brought out the after-dinner drinks.

It was a wonderful afternoon and we enjoyed seeing everyone again.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Tasha Tuesday

Tasha reacts to Trump's latest tweet. I can't tell if she's expressing shock or just yawning. We wore her out yesterday by taking her to some friends' home for lunch. She was a very good dog all day, exploring the grounds and generally being friendly and cute. But because we were out, she didn't get her usual mid-day nap. When we got home last night, she crashed and slept without a peep through the night. Neither the early morning thunder nor the passing garbage truck could rouse her out of bed.

If you look closely, you can see Tasha's name tag. She's also wearing her stylish black harness.

I picked a whole bunch of green beans on Monday morning, so today we'll be working to preserve them. Most likely they'll get blanched and frozen, but we'll probably keep some out to eat fresh.