Thursday, October 31, 2013

The aftermath

The grape harvest seems to be complete. In the vineyard parcels where harvesting is done by machine, you can see the naked stems where there once were grapes. The machines vibrate the vines and suck the grapes right off the stem. In the manual process, the stem is cut at the top and goes into the press with the grapes. The ghostly bunches seem fitting for this time of year.

What's left after the harvester passes.

I'm having problems with my chainsaw. It starts up, but after about a minute it stalls. Then it takes nearly a hundred pulls to get it started back up again (after which I'm too tired to cut). When it finally does start up, it makes a lot of smoke. There's probably a problem with carburetor, but I'm no mechanic and can't imagine taking the thing apart.

I will take the machine to the shop to see if they can do anything. The chainsaw is twenty years old (I bought it used and have had four good years of use), so I may have to face the facts and retire it. We shall see.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Of dreams and red leaves

There's something a little special about this photo. I didn't even notice it when I took the picture, but once the image was up on the computer, there it was. Can you see it?

You can run, but you can't hide.

Last night, I had one of those vivid dreams one has from time to time. The kind you actually remember. Ken and I were out to dinner with the Two Fat Ladies: Jennifer Paterson (who passed away in 1999) and Clarissa Dickson Wright. In the lobby we ran into an older gentleman with a closely cropped white beard. He was dressed in what looked like a military uniform from the British Raj in India. He didn't say much. Jennifer slyly referred to Clarissa with some impressive British title, and the restaurant staff treated us like royalty. I remember one of our numerous appetizers was lobster, in the shell, one for each of us. Unfortunately, that's the only part of the meal I remember.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tiny universes

It's as if each drop is it's own tiny universe, filled with microscopic critters and who knows what else, sealed inside, unaware of what's outside, all resting on the back of a simple leaf. It startles the imagination to think about it. Especially if you've had a glass or two of wine.

Water droplets on an overturned leaf.

This morning the sky is clear and the result is a chilly morning. We've got about 8ºC (46ºF) outside the house this morning. I'll wager it's a degree or two colder out in the vineyards. The boiler is running to take the chill off inside the house. It won't run for long. If necessary, I'll build a fire later in the day.

The wood stove's chimney got swept yesterday, so we're good for another year. If I'm lucky, and industrious, I could get most if not all of the remaining logs cut this week.

Monday, October 28, 2013

A little color among the vines

The vineyards are shedding their green for the yellows, golds, and reds of fall. Then, sometime in the next couple of weeks, everything will go brown and the leaves will start dropping. The vineyard will take on a ghostly aspect, a spider's web of bare canes and tendrils.

We have to enjoy sights like this while they last.

Pruning will start in late fall or early winter, a job that I do not envy. The pruning is done entirely by hand, vine by vine. It will last well into late winter. Whatever the weather, cold, raining, windy, or snowy, the pruners will be out there clipping and burning. Only the harshest storm will keep them away.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The harvest is winding down

There are still a few grapes here and there. But most have been picked now. Wine making is underway. In a few weeks we'll be able to taste the Touraine Primeur, the new young wine. It's like Beaujolais Nouveau, only from our region. Then, through winter and spring, this year's wine will ferment and age a bit until it's released next summer.

One of the last harvesters working out behind our house this season.

I think that all the grapes in the vineyards behind our house have now been harvested. I still hear the hum of a harvester or two in the distance, but less now. It's still unseasonably warm, but that will end all to soon as well, I'm sure.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Like peas in a pod

Except that they're chestnuts or châtaignes in French. The floor of the woods around our house is covered in them. And so is our road as it descends toward the river. The nuts and their spiky pods are falling now, along with a good share of the chestnut trees' leaves.

Chestnuts often come three-in-a-pod. They're too small to be worth eating.

Callie doesn't like walking on some of her favorites paths through the woods right now. The spikes on the pods hurt her feet. I don't blame her. It won't be long, though, until they start to soften and decompose, then they'll no longer hurt.

When châtaignes are cultivated to be larger and rounder, they're called marrons. They're what get roasted or canned or made into a sweet paste for eating.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sunrise over an abandoned vineyard

There are several abandoned vineyard parcels among the active ones out behind our house. The posts and vines are still there, but have been left untended for years. The vines still produce grapes, but the bunches are too numerous and the grapes are too small. They really need the hard and constant pruning to produce well.

The sun had just cleared the horizon when I snapped this photo.

When a grower gets old, infirm, or dies, and he has no one to take over for him or to sell to, his parcels are left to go wild. It's a bit sad, but the abandoned parcels do provide some habitat for wildlife among the tended vineyards. And they can be pretty.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


We still have three artichoke plants in the garden, but we don't eat the artichokes. They're too few, too small, and too tough. Since they look nice, we let them stay. As long as they like. The flowers in late summer are beautiful, and the dried flower heads this time of year are pretty too.

A dried artichoke, one of about six. Soon I will cut them down for burning.

I was very productive on Wednesday. The hedges that got cut down to half their height last spring are now trimmed. It's much easier to trim hedges when there are no ladders involved. I also trimmed the lavender shrubs and a daisy bed. I'm hoping to get some logs cut this morning as the weather is supposed to be nice. Tomorrow, we're expecting some rain.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Leaf pattern

This leaf caught my eye the other day. I thought that the dark blotch was perfectly positioned. Nature can be so symmetrical sometimes. Often, actually. But it's still eye-catching, especially when the color is so vibrant.

An orange leaf turning brown from the center.

This week is our town's annual collecte des objets encombrants (large waste pickup). The big things that we can't take to the dump ourselves are picked up and disposed of. All we have to do is get them out to the roadside. This year we have the pieces of the old concrete barbeque, some old deteriorating wood shutters (probably original to the house), the old leaky rain barrel, some large pieces of metal, and a few other junk items. By Thursday, en principe, it should all be gone.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Autumn sunrise

The sun is not yet at its lowest point of the year, but it's getting there. Right now the sun rises to the south of due east. It's a long and low sunrise. The light is horizontal for a long time and the high point is not very high at mid-day. These trees (which are a common sight on this blog) seemed to glow orange-red in the morning sun this past weekend.

Sunrise in the vineyard on Saturday, 19 October 2013.

You will be pleased to know that I got the grass cut on Monday. All of it. At least one, if not two, of our neighbors was also out cutting his grass. Like I said, you've got to make hay while the sun shines. Depending on the weather, I may need to cut the grass one more time this year. We'll see. Last year's final cut was on November 8. In 2011, I cut it on November 21. Yes, I keep records.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Oak leaf cluster

That sounds like some decoration an American general might wear. This little branch must have snapped off its tree in the wind. Normally, oak leaves don't fall until spring when the new growth pushes them off. They turn brown, but hang on the tree all through winter.

Oak leaves on the ground.

Sunday's weather was nice enough and Ken and I felt good enough to get some of our outdoor chores done. The lawn chairs are in and I picked up most of the fallen apples (about four wheelbarrows-full). Ken ripped out the dead vegetable plants from the garden and gathered up all the stakes. Another growing season comes to a close. We still have collard greens and kale growing out there, and I think we'll be harvesting some of that kale real soon.

I plan to begin grass cutting today.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Things are looking up

I'm feeling much better, thank you. There is still a little residual congestion, but I'm definitely getting over the cold now. I have done diddly-squat about the outdoor chores and it's driving me a little crazy. Just watching the grass get taller and taller makes me anxious. But, even without the cold, the weather would have stopped me from cutting it, so I can't feel too bad.

Looking up at blue sky through the trees in the piney woods.

Today I hope to get out and pick up some apples and bring in the lawn chairs. That should be enough outdoor activity for the day. I hope to be able to cut the grass tomorrow and/or Tuesday.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Late harvest

Most of the grapes in the vineyards around us have been harvested. That means that they've also been pressed and that the process of fermentation is under way in the local wineries. But there are several parcels still waiting for the harvesters. Some of them are planted in chenin blanc, a grape that benefits from more time on the vine and a little noble rot.

One of our neighbors waves to me and Callie while harvesting grapes with his wife yesterday.

As I understand it, when the grapes begin to shrivel and rot sets in, the sugars in the fruit become highly concentrated and, when fermentation is interrupted leaving residual sugar behind, the resulting wine is much sweeter than it would otherwise be. This sweet wine is often labelled as demi-sec or moelleux. Vouvray is an example of a local wine made with 100% chenin grapes. It can be made sec (dry, picked earlier), demi-sec (sweet, late harvest), or made into sparkling wine (which can be either a dry brut or a sweet demi-sec).

Near us, the chenin is either made into a demi-sec still wine or is used to blend into the local sparkling wines. Some of it, very little in fact, is sold as white table wine with no AOC standing. The standard dry white wine from the vineyards around us is not made from chenin, but from sauvignon blanc. They're the first grapes to be picked each year.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Running out of photos

My cold, combined with the dark and rainy days we've had of late, has kept me indoors and not inclined to use the camera. So be prepared to see some more autumn leaves and spider webs.

Fall is the time to observe spider webs. The light is low and there are plenty of dewy mornings.

I'm hopeful that I'm on the mend now. I feel better in general and the coughing has calmed down a bit. The weather is promising to be relatively dry and warm over the weekend so, in addition to getting some of the outdoor chores done, I should be able to get out with the camera. I'll probably take more photos of autumn leaves and spider webs.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Morning sky

I took this picture in the vineyards behind the house one week ago. Since then the skies have been overcast and we've had rain. But as of this morning the rain has moved on and we should have some dry days ahead. And even warmer temperatures.

The sun is getting lower in the sky every day and our morning walks often happen in twilight.

This is all important because a bunch of outdoor chores are on hold. Among them, getting the grass cut. The rain and mild temps are making the grass grow like crazy and it needs to be cut. There's also the remaining logs to get sawed, and I have some low hedges to trim. We also would like to get the garden plots tilled up for winter.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Another moth crane fly

I think this is called a plume moth, but I'm not sure (Update: fellow blogger Tim identifies it as a crane fly. Thanks Tim!). I saw it clinging to this grass plant seed head early one dewy morning out in the vineyard.

I don't know these well enough to identify all the bits and pieces, like the curly bits behind the moth. Is there more than one insect here?

My cold is a little better. I'm sleeping, although I wake up periodically to cough. But the sinuses are beginning to clear, and that's a good thing. Luckily, I suppose, this cold is coinciding with lousy outdoor weather, so I'm not missing out on getting chores done because of it.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

On the Cher

Last week I took a walk with friends and dogs down along the river. It's not a walk I do often for two reasons: first, to get to the river we have to cross a road with fast-moving cars and, second, the river bank is often too muddy to enjoy. But on this day it was dry enough to be pleasant.

The Cher River bends around to the right behind those tall trees. Looking downstream.

The Cher is neither wide nor deep. I'm sure there are places where it would be easy to wade across, although I've not tried that. The water is very clear and I can often see fish and other wildlife from the shore. Callie and her canine friend Lulu enjoyed exploring the thickets and clearings along the river bank. And we humans enjoyed the views across the water.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Winter squash

I mentioned yesterday, I harvested all the winter squash in this year's garden. Ken brought a pack of mixed squash seeds back from his trip to the US last spring. The varieties in the pack were delicata, buttercup, butternut, and spaghetti. I had no idea what varieties would come up when I planted them.

Our squash crop, minus one, for 2013.

It turns out that we got some of each. The spaghetti squash were the most represented with ten squash, followed by the buttercup with five. We only got one butternut plant which produced two fruits, one of them a little small. Then we got three very large oblong green squash that don't look anything like the pictures on the packet. They might be delicata, but they don't look like they're supposed to.

Spaghetti (yellow ovals), buttercup (green rounds, bottom), butternut (pear shaped on left), and the big dark green not-quite-delicata (top of photo, under the others).

Whatever they are, I'm sure they'll be good. We've already had one of the buttercups and it was quite tasty with a dense orange flesh that resembles butternut, but is not as sweet. It has a chestnut flavor. We cooked a spaghetti squash for lunch yesterday and it was delicious. We'll be eating a lot of squash for the next few weeks. I'll also be preserving some of it by roasting and freezing the flesh. That will be good for breads, pies, and soups during the winter (just like pumpkin).

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Autumn flowers

There are still some wildflowers in bloom out in the vineyard. They're the last of the late summer wild carrot, chicory, and thistle plants. It won't be long before they've given up their seeds and wither as the temperatures drop.

These colors will soon give way to the reds and golds of fall.

On Saturday I picked some more tomatoes, but they're much fewer and not as good looking as the last batch. The plants themselves are brown now, and the slugs are attacking the remaining fruit. Still, it was a good season for us, especially when you think of how late it got started.

I also got the winter squash crop in. It's too wet to let it linger on the ground, and again, the slugs are starting to get to them. The acorn squash seems particularly attractive to them. So I figured I'd get them all out of the garden. I'm sure a photo of the crop will show up here soon.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Autumn leaves

Other signs of autumn, besides the weather, around our hamlet are the changing leaves. Only a few trees are turning yellow so far; there's still a lot of green around. The vineyards are also beginning their change. Soon they will be filled with vibrant reds and yellows before changing over to brown.

Grape vines putting on a show.

We had rain over night, and it looks like it may continue into the day. The weather system is spinning right over us, according to the radar image. I won't get any grass or log cutting done today.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Autumn fuzz

These little flowers are setting seed right now. The tiny fuzzballs are only a centimeter or so (about half an inch) across. In the morning dew they get clumpy and not so aerodynamic. But still, somehow they manage to fly away to grow new plants because they're everywhere in and around the vineyard.

The fuzz on this flower head is drying out after being soaked by rain.

Our wind has shifted toward the north and we're expecting to feel some chill in the air this weekend. Autumn is definitely here.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Bœuf à la bourguignonne

Also known as bœuf bourguignon (beef burgundy), this hearty beef stew is a classic of French cooking. I've wanted to make one since the end of summer. Fall and winter are the times to eat the classic plats mijotés that are so typical of home-style cooking in France. For this one, we went to see the butcher that used to drive to our house once a week.

The meat with herbs and aromatic vegetables before being doused in red wine.

You may remember that we "fired" him a few months ago. His stuff is great, but expensive. We just couldn't justify his prices on a weekly basis. But once in a while it's nice to get something exceptional. The beef in this dish is joues de bœuf (beef cheeks), a very tasty and tender cut and one that we don't really see in the supermarkets. I added some onion, carrot, garlic, allspice, black pepper, bay leaves, and fresh thyme and rosemary. What you can't see is the poitrine fumé, sliced smoked-cured pork belly (bacon), on the bottom. I covered the meat with red wine to marinate it for about twenty-four hours. Then it cooked long and slow to be ready for today's dinner.

We'll serve it with potatoes, although a very common accompaniment to this dish is tagliatelles (egg noodles). Since I'm making a pasta starter, I thought potatoes would be better with the main course. If I get it together to do photos of the finished dish, I'll post them later.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

The harvest continues

I've just noticed some of the red grapes are being harvested now. I saw some crews out in the vineyards a day or so ago hand-picking in a parcel that I think is planted in red grapes (gamay). There's also a harvester plying the rows on the north side of our house this morning. I think those are red grapes as well. Once the grapes are picked, I tend to forget what color grew where.

Red grapes out behind our house, ready for harvest.

The grapes are pressed as they arrive at the winery, then the process of wine-making begins. Soon we will see the local bernache in the markets. That's fresh grape juice that has just begun to ferment. It's kind of a specialty of early fall. Then, in mid-November, the "new" wines will come out. You've probably heard of Beaujolais Nouveau; our local winemakers do a similar thing called Touraine Primeur. Thanksgiving wine!

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Lines of love in circles and angles

Where's Marilyn McCoo when you need her? Not much going on here, except the normal stuff. I'm still cutting logs (got another 30 done yesterday), Ken made a big batch of tomato sauce with what may be the last of our tomato crop. I'm picking up apples again in advance of cutting the grass; last week's rain and our warm temperatures have started it growing again.

Lines on a playground's paved area for basketball and other games. In Le Grand-Pressigny.

The weather people are telling us that it's going to cool down even more toward the end of the week. We may need to fire up the heating system, or at least build a fire in the wood stove to take the chill off. It all depends on how chilly it gets and how much the sun shines.

Monday, October 07, 2013

The wine cellar is open

That's what this sign means. We saw it recently at a winery we visited on the Loire near the town of Amboise. The young couple that grow the grapes and make and sell their wine were very nice and we bought a bunch of bottles after our tasting.

Unassuming signs leaned up against a wall.

The winery is one of many located in a small town called Limeray. They do the standard Touraine wines made from the gamay, cabernet, côt, sauvingon blanc, and chenin varietals. On the other side of town is a cooperative cellar where many growers pool their grapes for centralized winemaking. We also stopped in there for a taste and ended up buying a bunch more.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

A tiny snail

After I brought some flowers into the house last week, I noticed this little critter on one of the leaves. I put him on my hand to take him outside, then thought to grab the camera. I have no idea whether this is a baby snail (I guess that it probably is) or some full-grown tiny species.

An itty-bitty escargot. I released him into the front garden.

It's Sunday, so the hunters will be out in the vineyards today. Unless the growers are out with the harvesters. The harvest takes priority over the hunting. I wouldn't be surprised to see them picking today after the heavy rains we had on Friday night. The weather is predicted to be sunny and dry through the middle of the week, so there should be a good deal of activity out there, especially when they start picking the red grapes.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Lumberjacking update

I'm slowly making progress on the log pile. After each cutting session, I rake up the sawdust and haul it out to the compost pile. A clean workplace is a happy workplace. It won't be long before the sawing is all done for the season. Then it's just a matter of splitting the big logs with the axe each day before I haul them up into the house for burning. I'm so butch.

Two rows of logs, cut and stacked high. I should get at least one more row with the remaining logs, maybe a bit more.

Once the logs are done, I still have some outdoor chores to get done before winter arrives. Among them, cutting the grass again and trimming the small hedges. We've asked the contractor back to trim the tall hedges (like the one in the photo below) and we're waiting to hear from him about the scheduling. But the hedges that were cut down to a smaller size last year are mine to trim. It should be pretty easy to do if the weather holds.

These are the logs I have left to saw. Just a few more days work. At my pace, that is.

I got my hair cut by the new lady in town. I like what she did, so I'm sure I'll go back. She did a nice job redecorating the salon and she's young and excited about her new business. I hope it works out for her.

Friday, October 04, 2013


This is part of one of the diggers/loaders/backhoes that the crew had parked out behind our house last week. They're using these vehicles to dig and re-fill the trenches for the electrical undergrounding project. Most of the ground work seems to be done now.

Lots of hydraulics and grease. A well-oiled machine?

We've seen the electricians out working to splice cable and prepare the connections at the pole where the distribution wires originate. We don't know when the changeover will happen, nor do we know how long it will be between that and the removal of the old wires and poles.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

Nuts to you

Acorns are dropping all around us. The woods and forests in our region are filled with oak trees and oak trees produce acorns. When I walk under a stand of oaks I can hear the crunching under foot. Callie will munch on one every now and then.

An acorn still on the tree.

Our tomato harvest continues, and we got a couple more courgettes (zucchini) from the garden yesterday. They're probably the last ones. The winter squash crop, however, is just starting. We have mostly spaghetti squash this year -- it's the first time I've grown that. We also have a type of acorn squash (speaking of acorns), a couple of stray butternuts, and a couple of some other kind of cucurbitacée (the squash family).

We're planning to make a bunch of food for the freezer this week, starting today with a ratatouille using tomatoes and zukes from the garden along with eggplant and peppers from the market. Then Ken's planning some stuffed cabbage leaves and we'll probably make another batch of tomato sauce. We also have the ingredients for a potée, a pot full of vegetables (carrot, potato, rutabaga, cabbage, leek) flavored with a ham hock and some smoked sausages; that'll be lunch for the next day or so. I'm already hungry.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

It's mushroom season

These champignons (mushrooms) are not edible as far as I know, and I won't be trying to find out. I'm a wimp when it comes to eating wild mushrooms. I love mushrooms, so I always get them from the market where I'm confident that they're edible.

A low-light (therefore blurry) shot in the woods next to our house.

Fall is the season for mushrooms and the gathering has begun in forests all over the country. The most sought-after variety seems to the be the cèpe (boletus or porcini mushroom), but all manner of woodland fungi are showing up in the markets now, including the chanterelle and the trompette-des-morts. And let's not forget the wildly expensive truffe (truffle) that comes along later this fall.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

The harvest has begun

On Monday morning, one of our local growers brought out his harvester and started picking his white grapes, the local sauvignon blanc. The weather is a bit wet and humid, so I think they want to get the grapes in before rot can set in.

These are (most likely) sauvignon blanc grapes. Ready for picking and making the local white wine.

The harvest will continue for a few weeks. After the sauvignon blanc is picked, they'll move on to the red grapes: gamay, cabernet, and côt.

You may have noticed that the Newsiness section in the sidebar is missing. I tried to update it yesterday, but the gadget wouldn't work. So I tried to delete and reinstall the gadget. Deleting worked to perfection. Reinstalling, not so much. So it's gone for the time being. I'm hopeful that the Blogger folks will repair this soon.