Monday, August 31, 2015

Walk this way

A few times a year, an association in our town sponsors a randonnée (walk or hike) to raise money or to just offer some social exercise for residents. The route of the walk will often come by our house on the way out through the vineyards. The path is marked on the ground with chalk arrows like this one that's currently on the road near our back gate.

Rain will eventually wash away the chalk arrows.

August is ending in style with very warm days and mild nights. We're expecting a little rain and maybe some thunder activity later this afternoon, then a cool-down.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

It won't be long

I don't know when the grape harvest will get underway. It will depend largely on what the weather does in the coming weeks. I've heard or read (although I don't remember where) that mid-September is likely. Last year, harvesting started around the nineteenth of September.

The grape leaves are still summer green.

Hunting season for game birds and wild hares doesn't start in our town until mid-October this year. But there may be organized hunts for foxes and roe deer before then.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

What's on tv

This is it. Vacations are over and people are going back to school and to work. And the US Open tennis tournament starts up on Monday. You know what I'll be watching.

What NOT to watch this week. Our tv magazine rates shows and movies using a star system: one star is ok, four stars is best. They use another symbol for really bad movies: the red dot. It means "à zapper" (change the channel!). The editors often include comments about the movie that make me laugh.

The Germans don't get off without a zap. It might be worth a watch just to see Mr. Wiesinger up there, but probably not (a German-language film dubbed into French).

A la poursite de la lance sacrée (In Search of the Sacred Spear). German made-for-tv movie. Directed by Florian Baxmeyer, 2010.
With Kai Wiesinger and Fabian Busch.
An archaeologist searches for his mentor who disappeared while searching for the spear that supposedly pierced the body of Christ.
This movie wants to be another "Raiders of the Lost Ark" but has none of the elements that made its model a success.
For adults and teenagers.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Don't get saucy with me

I picked a lot of tomatoes on Wednesday. And many of them are the biggest cœur de bœuf (beef heart) tomatoes I've ever grown. I swear that one was the size of an American softball. About two-thirds of the tomatoes I picked were ripe and over-ripe, some are just right, and others, which had fallen in the storm, are green. Those should ripen on the shelf in a few days.

Fresh garden tomatoes trimmed and in the pot.

I had to do something with the ripe and over-ripe tomatoes, so into the sauce pot they went. There are still some nice ripe ones left for eating in the next days, not to mention what's still in the garden. And there are plenty in the garden, so we should have a good amount of sauce for the freezer this year.

This is a ten-liter pot (10.5 US quarts) filled to the brim.

When we first started growing tomatoes, we decided to can the sauce. That worked well, but it was a lot of work. Since we've had the big chest freezer, freezing the sauce makes the process much less cumbersome and time consuming. We still have sauce from last year to finish up!

Thursday, August 27, 2015

A ghost of a chance

It's a little too early for Halloween, but this ghoul is getting some practice in. I found it in the woods near where some clothes are stuffed and nailed to a tree trunk. Somebody likes to have fun. Callie and I have cut through these woods before, but it's been a long time. This week we've done it twice. Each time we go in, she disappears for a few minutes into a ravine to chase deer. Or maybe goblins.


Wednesday was hot with a stiff, dry wind blowing. I spent a good part of the afternoon in the vegetable garden picking tomatoes and zucchini (like we need more zucchini), pounding in new wooden stakes, and tying up the tomato plants that got blown over in Monday's wind storm. Then I watered the winter squash, cucumbers, peppers, eggplants, and collards as they were looking a little peaked in the heat. We're expecting rain today, but it looks like most of it won't happen until this afternoon and through the night, so it was good to give those plants a drink in the meantime.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Apple carpet

I haven't done anything about the fallen apples yet. I did push them aside on the garden path to clear a place to walk. Fortunately, the grass doesn't need to be cut anytime soon, so I'm not in a hurry. It will probably take me a few days to deal with them all. There aren't many apples left on the trees.

It's going to take a long time to get these cleaned up. Compare to this photo from a few days ago.

I think I mentioned that another apple tree outside our back gate was damaged in Monday's wind storm. The tree was split vertically down the middle of the trunk. I was afraid that this was going to happen to our big apple tree (in the photo above), but it was spared, probably because it is leaning into the wind. One day it, too, will go -- there's already a large split in the trunk.

The damaged tree out next to the pond.

I ate a garden tomato for supper last night. Just sliced, with salt, pepper, a little olive oil, and some balsamic vinegar. It was great. The big tomatoes are ripening now. It won't be long before I'll need to make sauce for the freezer. In the meantime, we will enjoy fresh, tasty toms from the garden. What a treat!

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Threatening skies

This was the view out the den window on Sunday as a weather system moved in. We got just a sprinkling of rain on Sunday, then a little more overnight. It's interesting how quickly the weather changed from hot and summery to cool and blustery. We're expecting more summery weather as the week goes on.

It looks a lot worse than it was.

The wind on Monday was strong, but not scary. It started up in mid-morning and lasted through the afternoon with lots of gusts and rain squalls. Hundreds of apples fell to the ground. I've got a big job ahead of me to pick them all up. And the tomato plants suffered a little. I don't think anything broke, but more than a few of the plants are leaning over. I'll be out there today to assess the damage and stand things back up. Ugh.

Monday, August 24, 2015

At the crossroads

This is the normal western limit of my morning walks with Callie. Whether we stick to the dirt road or walk around the vines and through the woods, we usually turn back toward home when we get to this point. Once and a while we go beyond the intersection and around some vineyard parcels farther out. On this day we did just that and I snapped the photo on our way back. Callie knows that the dirt road is the way back home.

Looking easterly toward home on a sunny summer morning.

We're expecting some windy weather this morning. I hope the tomatoes will stand up to it. I've reinforced their stakes to help them resist and not blow over. I should go out early and pick whatever is ripe before it gets too windy.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Stuffed giant zucchini

Remember that giant zucchini from our garden? It's history. Ken cut it into thick rings and hollowed them out by removing and discarding the seeds. Then he painted the rings with olive oil and roasted them until they were just about done.
Pre-roasted squash rings being stuffed with taco-seasoned ground turkey.

We made a taco-style stuffing with ground turkey and Mexican spices, stuffed the squash with it, then sprinkled on some grated cheese. One of the rings was sacrificed to be peeled and chopped into the stuffing. The filled rings cooked some more in the oven until the cheese melted. We served them with some freshly-made tomato salsa (toms from the garden, of course!).

Finished stuffed squash with melted cheese.

Thanks to Ksam for the inspiration! The original recipe (here's Ksam's link to the recipe) used smaller zukes and stuffed them as boats, and it was also a low-calorie, healthy recipe. I'm not sure how low-calorie our version is, but it sure tasted great. The skin of the gargantuan zucchini is tough, but it peeled off verily easily at serving time. With normal-sized squash we would eat the skin.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

What's on tv

Only one week left of summer school vacation. La rentrée scolaire (back to school) is set for Tuesday, September 1. The new television season starts in September as well, with summer repeats going away, old shows starting their new seasons, and new shows showing up (as it were).

All you need to know about French tv series' new season.

What NOT to watch this week. Our tv magazine rates shows and movies using a star system: one star is ok, four stars is best. They use another symbol for really bad movies: the red dot. It means "à zapper" (change the channel!). The editors often include comments about the movie that make me laugh.

This movie is called "500 MPH Storm" in English. The movie poster at IMDb shows the US Capitol toppling over. Apparently, the US Congress finally generated enough hot air to knock the top off the building.

Hyper tempête (500 MPH Storm). American made-for-tv movie. Directed by Daniel Lusko, 2013.
With Casper Van Dien and Bryan Head.
After a mistake, an energy experiment goes awry. Destructive hurricanes pop up all over the United States.
This made-for-tv movie unites bad actors, of which Casper Van Dien is the primary representative, mediocre special effects, and an annoyingly idiotic screenplay. In short: a huge bomb!
For adults and teenagers.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Apple falling time

I'm sure I picked up thousands of apples on Monday. They fall from our four trees onto the ground all through the summer. The bigger the apples get, the less the lawnmower can handle them, so they have to be picked up before I cut the grass. I've tried to rake them into piles, but they don't rake very well. The apples pass right through the tines of a flexible rake, and a stiff rake gets stuck in the grass.

Less than 24 hours after mowing and the apples continue to fall. These are three of our four apple trees.

I found a method that seems to work: I use a garden hoe to "pull" all the apples into piles. Then I crouch down and toss the apples from the piles into a wheelbarrow. This method beats bending over to pick up apples one by one, and it's easier on my back. When the wheelbarrow is full, I roll it over to the compost pile to empty it. Apples make great compost. I'll be repeating this a few more times this year until all the apples have fallen.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Heading out

A familiar sight to regular readers, this is where Callie and I start our morning walks through the vineyard. Once we go through the gate at the back of our property, we walk around the little pond and take this dirt road out among the vines. Most of the time I go all the way out along the road then turn around and come back. But sometimes we turn into the vines and walk around the edges or go through the woods. Callie likes that best.

The vineyard on a mid-August morning. Our daily walk takes us out beyond the horizon in this photo.

We're having a very nice weather week with pleasant days and cool nights. Good for sleeping. Today and through Saturday the highs are expected to be in the mid eighties fahrenheit. More and more tomatoes are turning red.

Today I'm planning to do the annual clean-out of the drains under the house. I use the power washer with a drain snake attachment to clear the calcium build-up from inside the old concrete pipes. We don't want to risk them blocking up during the winter (or any other time).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015


We're in the height of Queen Anne's Lace season. Here, it's called carotte sauvage (wild carrot). The prolific blooming normally occurs at the time when summer begins its slow fade into fall. The plants almost carpet the vineyard, but much of it has been cut back. I cut a fair amount of it when I mowed the yard yesterday. Not to worry; there's still plenty left all around.

An insect rests on a flower head that looks like it's just about to open.

The zucchini plants seem to be in a lull. Thank goodness. There are still six squash in the kitchen to be used or processed, not to mention Big Bertha on the deck. Ken has plans for that one. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tomato goodness

The tomatoes are coming in, at least two varieties are, and the other varieties have started turning red, so it won't be long. There is no sign, so far, of the dreaded mildiou (tomato blight) that plagued us last year. That's probably because we've had a good spell of hot and dry weather this summer. I planted the tomatoes a little farther apart this year and have stripped off lower leaves to improve air flow and minimize contact with the ground.

Yellow, red, and orange rainbows, and small round toms are ready to eat now.

I'm sure those things helped, but the lack of excess moisture this year is likely the main factor. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a good crop over the coming weeks. We'll have lots of sauce for the freezer!

Monday, August 17, 2015

The one that got away

Somehow I didn't notice these two zucchini until it was too late. They were hiding under some big leaves. Talk about laughing out loud. I don't know what we'll do with them. Maybe cut them up and stuff them, if we can make enough stuffing.

That's a standard sized Champagne bottle for comparison (but it's our local sparkling wine, not actual Champagne).

Our weather was very nice on Sunday and we enjoyed a lunch out by the river with some friends in a restaurant we hadn't been to before. Ken is posting about it today, so click on over to his blog to have a look.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Seed pods

I thought these looked cool. I'm not ready for summer to wind down, but it's that time of year. There are two weeks left of school vacation. Already the store circulars are advertising back-to-school sales. I can feel the days getting shorter, and our recent spell of chilly weather is a foreshadowing of the crisp fall days down the road.


But there still should be some good summer weather in the weeks ahead. The grapes are starting to ripen and the vegetable garden is producing. I'll need to cut the grass in the coming week. And there are other outdoor chores to do. Officially, fall is a little over a month away. Let's hope so.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

What's on tv

It's a cover with almost all the stories about French television/personalities. They still couldn't resist one tiny American reference: Lee Majors.

Sheila, an icon of French pop music from the sixties, may still feel 40, but she turns 70 this week.

What NOT to watch this week. Our tv magazine rates shows and movies using a star system: one star is ok, four stars is best. They use another symbol for really bad movies: the red dot. It means "à zapper" (change the channel!). The editors often include comments about the movie that make me laugh.

Daysaster? I have no words.

Independence Daysaster. Canadian made-for-tv movie. Directed by WD Hogan, 2013.
With Ryan Merriman and Emily Holmes.
On the USA's national holiday, Earth is attacked by space aliens. A firefighter and a scientist attempt to counter the invasion.
A threadbare script, direction that's all over the map, all helped along by bad actors. Indigestible.
For adults and children over 10.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Tomatoes are starting

I've picked a bowlful of little tomatoes from the garden this week. The big tomatoes are mostly still green, but these little guys are turning shades of yellow, orange, and red. They were billed as "rainbow tomatoes" which I'm finding out means that some plants have red fruit, some have yellow, and others have orange. I've got four of these plants.

Yellow (or are they orange?) rainbow tomatoes on the vine.

I'm going to use these tomatoes to make a tabbouleh salad using cucumbers (from the garden) and either bulgur wheat or couscous (pasta). Not sure which yet. Also, mint from the garden will go in. I've already made several salads with zucchini in the past couple of weeks, so going back to the tabbouleh will be a nice change.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

More grapes

It's a dark morning; the storm clouds have moved in. It's raining lightly as I type, just after seven a.m. I tried to take Callie out before the rain started, but I missed. So we're waiting for a clear patch. The radar shows that this is just a little squall and it should be over soon. But then there's a lot more rain coming in behind. So we have a little window of opportunity.

Another bunch of grapes from Tuesday morning's walk.

It was very humid (for us) on Wednesday and through the night. I slept mostly, but was wide awake between 02h30 and 04h30. I went outside to look for meteors (the peak of the Perseid meteor shower is right about now) and, although the sky was clear, I didn't see any. I did see some lightning in the distant northwest. Now it's off for a walk between the raindrops!

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

The grapes are turning

All of a sudden, it seems, the grapes are getting their color. Up until now, all the grapes were green. Now the cabernet, côt, and gamay grapes are starting to mature and to develop their dark tint. The sauvignon blanc (white) grapes will stay green for a while, then move toward a more golden color as harvest time approaches.

Red grapes in the morning sun.

The past days have been very warm and today is expected to be the peak of our mini heat wave. Then thunderstorms and rain are expected to move in over night and last through the day on Thursday, and temperatures will drop again. It's been a very summery summer, so far.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The clearing

Last fall, the ground here was bare, except for the litter of dead leaves, cut branches, and sawdust. This past spring, nature began to reclaim the woods. In the center of this shot, you can just barely make out a couple of the stacks of meter-long logs. They have been left to dry; I suppose that one day they'll be hauled out for firewood.

Lots of new growth in this cleared out section of the woods.

If you look closely, you'll see a small sapling on the ground across the path in the foreground. When I walked down through here on Tuesday evening, I noticed that someone had cut it up and cleared the path. Last week, I took a pair of pruners along with me and cut a bunch of thorny vines that were encroaching on the path. Just a little maintenance makes the walk more pleasant.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Periodic puppy pics

Here's the spot where Callie and I cross over the (now disconnected) electrified fence to head down into the river valley. We walk this way on most of our evening walks, except in late spring and early summer when the fence is electrified to keep the deer out of the adjacent vineyard parcel. Callie loves going through the woods and I like the climb back up the hill on our way home.

I'm standing where the fence is while Callie waits for me to take the picture.

You can see just beyond Callie that there's a clearing in the woods. Some years ago, storms toppled a bunch of trees that blocked the path down there. For a while we could duck under the tree trunks. Over time they settled to the ground and we had to climb over them. Then, last year, people came with chainsaws and removed the downed trees. They also cut down a whole lot more and stacked the wood. That left a good-sized clearing half-way down the hill. Already, however, new growth has started to fill it in.

Sunday, August 09, 2015


Every summer, I notice sailplanes in the air over our valley. I've seen five or six at a time sometimes, silently circling high above. Last week I saw this single plane riding the warm air currents. It made a few passes above the house and was gone again. I wonder where they come from?

I never knew these planes had red noses until I used the zoom lens to take a picture.

We got some much needed rain over night, although I haven't been out yet to check the gauge to see exactly how much we got. I won't have to water the today. **Update: I marked 20mm (0.8 inches) in the gauge.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

What's on tv

Well, this certainly isn't. Tom Cruise's fifth "Mission: Impossible" comes out in theaters this week. So, TF1 is showing "Mission: Impossible 3." I remember seeing the first film in the US, I think, when it came out on television or on DVD, but I haven't seen any of the sequels.

The speculation about Earth-like planets is all the rage right now.

What NOT to watch this week. Our tv magazine rates shows and movies using a star system: one star is ok, four stars is best. They use another symbol for really bad movies: the red dot. It means "à zapper" (change the channel!). The editors often include comments about the movie that make me laugh.

Not Bigfoot again! But who could pass up a movie with Danny Partridge AND Greg Brady?

Bigfoot. American made-for-tv movie. Directed by Bruce Davison, 2012.
With Danny Bonaduce, Barry Williams, Sherilyn Fenn.
Two men come together to hunt a legendary creature in the mountains.
The special effects are almost as bad as the actors. We feel sorry for Sherilyn Fenn ("Twin Peaks"). On the other hand, the appearance of Alice Cooper as himself is hilarious!
For adults and children over 10.

Friday, August 07, 2015

Zucchini carpaccio

It's that time of year when the courgettes (zucchini) are coming out of the garden by the bucketful (ok, maybe about three per day) and we're always on the lookout for different ways to eat them. The easiest way we've found so far is to just slice them, season them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and other spices, and put them on the grill. Yum. But sometimes you want a something a little different.

We used mint and feta, but you can also use capers and peccorino or parmesan.

Thanks to reader angiemanzi for inspiring us to make this dish: zucchini carpaccio. It was a breeze to make and delicious! I used the mandolin to make very thin slices of zucchini to which I added a thinly sliced shallot. That got sprinkled with the juice of one lemon and left to sit for an hour or two. I chopped some fresh mint from the garden and sprinkled that on, then cubes of a feta-style cheese. To finish, I added freshly ground pepper and drizzled olive oil over it all. It was a fresh and tasty first course on Thursday. We'll definitely do this again, and the variations are endless!

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The milk chocolate room

Just don't lick the walls. I finally finished putting the pictures on the walls in the den. The only thing left to do before the room is officially "done" is to hang the curtains. Soon, I promise. I really like the wall color. It's called ours brun (brown bear), but it looks more like milk chocolate to me. So here are a few photos of how it all came out. To see what it looked like a little over a month ago, click here.

We replaced the old daybed with this cabinet. It's filled with dishes and other overflow kitchen items.

The fold-down desk and my computer station. This is where I process photos and write the blog.

A view back into the living/dining room. We removed the door for now. I like it gone.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

The state of the garden

My fellow gardeners, the state of the garden is good.* But seriously, folks. It's amazing to look at the vegetable garden now compared to what it looked like in June. When we get to this stage, I'm always worried that something will happen (wind storm, hail) that will ruin it all. Last year we had tomato blight and lost half the crop (but still had plenty of tomatoes). So far, we've been lucky.

Large plump tomatoes on the verge of turning red.

This year I've planted the tomatoes a little farther apart and have been good about stripping the lower leaves to provide better air flow. And when I water (which has been a lot this year due to lack of rain), I water only at the base of the plant so as not to wet the leaves. So far, so good. The tomatoes are still green, but there are plenty of them and they look healthy.

Some of the tomato plants are easily five feet high.

We're getting green beans now and my only regret is that I didn't plant more. The cukes are producing, albeit slowly, and we now have jalapeno peppers forming. We have more zucchini than we know what to do with (last year's crop wasn't great). Bell peppers and eggplant are blossoming. And the winter squash plants are putting out (except for the butternut which I'm still waiting for). We've talked about expanding the garden next year for even better spacing and more room for beans.

The only crop that isn't working is the collard greens. Flea beetles are ravaging them (but nothing else) and they just can't get going. We'll try another crop for the fall.

* In the US, this is the line many Presidents use to open their annual State of the Union address: "My fellow Americans, the state of the union is good."

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

X marks the spot

I haven't started to dig for the buried treasure, yet. But I'm sure it's there. Right under the X.

The woods were dark at this spot.

We had a hot day yesterday. I measured the temperature on our (shaded) deck at 34ºC (about 93ºF) in mid-afternoon. Then, around midnight, the thunder and lightning started. The storms weren't particularly violent, at least not here, but they went on for two and a half hours. I was awake most of that time -- I find it hard to sleep during thunderstorms. Rain started around 02h45, after the thunder had moved off to the northeast. I finally got to sleep sometime after 03h00.

Monday, August 03, 2015

A walk in the woods

You all know by now how much Callie loves going into the woods. The other day we ventured in at a new spot (new for us) to have a look around. The walk was cut short by a kind of barrier of thorny brambles, but not before we explored a ravine and chased a deer. I think it was a deer, but I never saw it. Callie went bounding off barking for a few minutes, so I assumed she saw a deer.

I wonder what caused this stand of trees to curve like this?

The woods are not dark and foreboding. In many places the undergrowth is minimal and it's easy going. Except for those brambles. There are trails here and there and places where tractors can drive through. The people who own the woods will often clear small spots for the wood, so they need a way to get in and out.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

The grapes of August

There's good news and bad news. The good news is that there are a lot of grapes on the vines this year. The bad news is that they're very small. I guess it's all the heat and lack of rain. So, if things hold, there will be less wine, but it has to potential to be very good. Of course, the weather can change everything at the last minute. Harvest time is a long way off.

These grapes look like the normal size. I think they're red grapes. Maybe gamay. Don't hold me to it.

I really don't know much about the process, except for the very basics. We're just hearing things here and there from people who work the vineyards, and some from people who don't. I have certainly seen the tiny grapes, but there are also some grapes that look normal out there. Who's to say?

Saturday, August 01, 2015

What's on tv

Football! I don't really follow football (soccer for the Americans), so this week's special about who's covering what doesn't interest me much. There is never a lack of football on television. There are an abundance of leagues, teams, championships, and so on. It can make your head spin.

I probably will not be watching the Victoria's Secret Swimsuit Show tonight at midnight.

What NOT to watch this week. Our tv magazine rates shows and movies using a star system: one star is ok, four stars is best. They use another symbol for really bad movies: the red dot. It means "à zapper" (change the channel!). The editors often include comments about the movie that make me laugh.

Dinosaurs are in. I guess they have been ever since Jurassic Park came out in the early 1990s. But not every dinosaur movie can be a blockbuster.

Age of Dinosaurs. American made-for-tv movie. Directed by Joseph J. Lawson, 2013.
With Treat Williams, Ronny Cox, and Jillian Rose Reed.
A biotech firm develops a method for recreating dinosaurs through skin regeneration. The monsters rapidly spread terror throughout Los Angeles.
This bomb wants to be "Godzilla" and "Jurassic Park" but has neither the budget nor the actors to pull it off.
For adults and children over 10.