Friday, August 31, 2018

Raisins on the vine

This is nature's way of making raisins. These wine grapes simply shriveled in this year's hot summer sun. And they're not alone. I see more burned grapes out in the vineyard this year than I've seen in recent years.

These are real sun made -- not sun maid -- raisins.

I guess these things go in cycles. The summer of 2003, our first in this house, was one of the hottest summers on record, significantly hotter than this year was. But I don't remember what the grapes looked like. I'm not sure I paid much attention that first year. I'll bet there were a lot of "raisins" out there.

By the way, the French word for grape is raisin. What we call raisins are called raisins secs (dried grapes) in France.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A summer lunch

Wednesday was overcast and rainy, but I grilled anyway. We started our lunch with a very summery dish: melon au jambon (melon and cured ham). It's a typical French summer appetizer. The melons are of the Cavaillon type, even if they're grown in other places. They're similar to the North American cantaloupe in taste and texture and, in this dish, are served with jambon cru (cured ham). We had Italian prosciutto, but a French ham like Bayonne is often used.

Melon au jambon, so summery!

Our main course was a grilled turkey burger with cheese, garden tomato, and lettuce. Ken made a "special sauce" with Thai sriracha (hot pepper sauce) mixed with mayonnaise. Along side we had grilled corn on the cob. That's not a very French dish (people equate corn on the cob with feed corn which is grown to feed livestock), but we're seeing more and more sweet corn on the cob available in the markets lately.

Turkey cheeseburger and grilled corn on the cob.

Grilling season is coming to an end, but I'm hopeful that we'll be able to continue through September. Then I'll have to cover the grill for the winter. Sigh.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Not a lumberjack any more

Long time readers of this blog might remember that, starting in 2006, I used to saw my own firewood. The logs came in one-meter lengths and I had to use a chainsaw to cut each log into thirds to fit our wood stove. Those days are over, thankfully. A few years ago we found a guy who sells (and delivers) firewood already cut into the lengths we need.

The first of three rows is stacked.

So he delivers it and dumps it into the driveway. Then we have to stack it. The minimum order for free delivery is four stères, just a little more than the standard US cord. That's also all that will fit on his trailer, so getting more means a second delivery. And these days, with our upgraded central heating and the fact that we spend our evenings up in the loft and not in front of the wood stove, we burn less wood. So, we really don't need more.

The second of three rows is stacked, and the towers for each end of the third row are almost done.

Still, what we do get has to be stacked. We have a spot on the north side of the house, under the section of the deck that wraps around that side, where we can stack the wood and keep it reasonably dry. It's not a difficult job. We have to pick out the half-rounds so we can build stable "towers" on each end of the pile, then stack the rest of the wood between them. It takes a little thought, but not much. Fortunately.

The third and final row is done. There are small scraps of wood on top and in the blue can for kindling.

Ken and I can do the job in a couple of hours, but this year his back has been troubling him, so I did it myself. I took three days, about two hours at a time, give or take. I don't want to mess up my back by pushing myself too hard. Facing that pile of dumped logs, I wonder if I have the stamina, but once the job is done, it feels like it was easy.

This is what the pile looked like after I had finished stacking the first row.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Mary Allen's zucchini bread

I used Ken's mother's recipe to make a loaf of zucchini bread on Monday. The recipe is a little different from the one I usually use and resulted in a loaf that is more bread-like and less cake-like. I added some chopped pecans that Ken and his mother shelled and froze last fall.

The pecans in this section of the loaf seem to have migrated to the southeast. They must be homesick!

I put in a little more zucchini than the recipe called for. I'm trying to use it up! I also added a little less flour and sugar. The recipe calls for two tablespoons of baking powder; we think that may be a typo because it seems like an awful lot. I used half that amount and the loaf more than doubled in size when baked. I baked it in one loaf pan (the recipe said to make two loaves), so it took a little longer in the oven. But, even with these little adjustments, the bread baked well and tastes delicious!

Monday, August 27, 2018

Yellow tomato paste

Remember that bucket of yellow tomatoes that I picked last week? Well, I cooked them down into sauce and then cooked the sauce down even further to make tomato paste. They made five jars full; each jar holds one US cup. They're a good size for paste. It's good to use it up quickly once it's open.

Five cups of yellow tomato paste, sealed in jars and cooling. There are some seeds, but they add rustic charm!

This week I'll be working on making more sauce from the increasing harvest of red tomatoes. I'm sure some of that will be made into paste. The rest of the sauce will go into the freezer for winter and spring meals. And I 'm thinking that a nice batch of cream of tomato soup will make a good lunch one day soon.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Panda wine

This is a very strange thing. This wine label is a contradiction. First of all, I'm not sure I've ever heard of a cuvée Saint-Aignan. The images on the label are a direct reference to the zoo in Saint-Aignan, with the panda and the paw print. But it says that the wine is from the Pays d'Oc. That's six hundred kilometers (just under four hundred miles) south of Saint-Aignan.

A most confusing wine label.

Not to mention that the grapes that go into red wine in the Pays d'Oc are mostly merlot, cabernet sauvignon, syrah, and grenache, none of which are grown around Saint-Aignan. So, some enterprising wine merchant has decided to sell wine to tourists in our region by linking the wine to the zoo. Well, we bought it. But just out of curiosity (and it's not bad at all, it's just not from here). I wonder why someone didn't try to get a local wine maker to sell his/her wine with this label. It would have made more sense, no?

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Le potimarron

I harvested one of our dozen or so potimarrons this week, just to see if it's ready. It's a little early for these squash, but they certainly look like they're ready. I'm thinking that it's the hot and dry weather that made them mature quickly. I'll cut this one open soon and we'll have a taste.

"Poti" comes from "potiron" which means pumpkin and "marron" is the word for chestnut.

These squashes are called "red kuri" in North America. According to Wikipedia, they originated in Mesoamerica, as most all squashes did. It's thought that they were exported to Japan as early as the 16th century by Portuguese sailors, where they became known as "Hokkaido" or "kuri" squash. I'm really simplifying this history, so if you're interested in more detail the internet can help you out.

Potimarrons are very popular in France and I do see them in the markets and supermarkets. They're pretty easy to grow in the home garden, too, which I've done a few times over the years. But this year has been the best year for them in our garden. They're a firm-flesh winter squash, similar to butternut, but with a nice chestnut-like flavor. Yum.

Friday, August 24, 2018

How do you like them apples?

Time to pick up apples again. The two smaller trees are just loaded with them. The big tree has almost none. I can't cut the grass with all those apples on the ground, so I gather them up and dump them in to the compost bin. That said, the grass hasn't really been growing because of the hot and dry spell we've been having (only 4mm in the last month), so I haven't really needed to pick them up since the last time I cut the grass. Most of what has grown are the flower stalks of the weeds. The apples, however, continue to fall.

Last year these trees had very few apples. This year, they're loaded.

I'd like to get them up off the ground before it rains again. Some light rain is predicted for Saturday afternoon, but so far it doesn't look like it will be much. In the photo above, there's a blue tool leaning up against one of the trees. It's a scraper that I use to gather the apples into little piles so I can get them into the wheelbarrow without too much bending. Gotta take care of the back.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Tomato season

I cooked all those yellow tomatoes (yesterday's photo) down into sauce on Wednesday. This morning I will put the sauce through the food mill and then start reducing it into paste. As you can see from today's photo, there are still a lot of red tomatoes in the garden. We're planning to have two (or four) of the best looking ones for lunch today, stuffed with tuna salad. That should be refreshing on this hot day.

The garden is kind of a mess this time of year, but there's a lot of good eats in there!

Speaking of hot days, Wednesday was the hottest of the week, so far. Today should be a little less hot, and then the weekend is expected to feel downright chilly. Our order of firewood arrived yesterday afternoon and was dumped in a corner of the driveway. We'll probably start the process of stacking it once the temperatures cool down. Tomorrow we get our delivery of fuel oil for the winter.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Another bucket of toms

This time the bucket isn't full. I decided to pick as many of the yellow tomatoes as I could on Tuesday. I'm planning to sauce them, then further reduce the sauce into tomato paste for the pantry. Many of these tomatoes are getting very ripe, so it's time to process them.

The bucket holds 15 liters (about 4 US gallons). That's one of our parsley plants on the left.

There are still several buckets' worth of red tomatoes in the garden. Our challenge is to eat what we can (we're eating some almost every day now) and process the rest before they start to rot. I picked two more zukes, yesterday. Thankfully, their production is winding down. There are also about a dozen potimarrons (red kuri squash) out there, too. But, like pumpkins, they'll be alright on the vine for a while as long as it doesn't rain. And, it looks like our second crop of flat beans is coming soon.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

It wasn't the filling

So... I went to the dentist on Monday morning. For a couple of months, one of my upper molars felt like it had broken and the filling was gone. It was also quite sensitive to cold. I told the dentist and he had a look. He decided to take an x-ray. He told me that it looked like the filling was intact, and the x-ray confirmed that. What seems to have happened, he said, was that I chipped the back of the tooth.

Since I don't have a copy of my x-ray, you get a shot of the garden shed with Jerusalem artichokes just starting to bloom.

He said that, somehow, the tooth had been ébréchée (chipped). There wasn't enough missing to fill it, so he decided to apply un vernis (a coat of varnish). I'm sure it wasn't actual "varnish," but the idea is to seal the exposed part of the tooth, protecting it and eliminating the sensitivity. He did about three layers, it seemed to me. It took about five minutes, then he went on to clean my teeth.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Here it is

This is what I was talking about in yesterday's post. The strip behind our north-side fence that we "hacked out" back in 2012 when the growth got out of hand. I've been pretty good at keeping it clear since then. But it's got to be done regularly, or those brazen brambles, saplings, and other opportunist growing things will fill in quickly.

Tasha runs along the freshly cleared strip outside our fence. I've seen deer move through there many times.

The worst invaders are the blackberries. They grow fast and reach out to colonize any empty spot. They're covered in sharp thorns that can pierce clothes and gardening gloves like a stapler through paper. Ouch. And they really can't be eradicated, short of a total clearing of the woods' undergrowth and probably a good dousing of nasty herbicide. I've seen a patch of them burned to the ground out near the vineyard, but they always come back. Then there are the saplings that grow in the woods beyond the strip. As they grow taller, they lean toward the fence reaching for light. I have to cut them back before they start hanging over our yard. Of course, I can't do much about the older established trees. I won't mention the grasses and other plants that actually grow on the fence line itself. You can see in the photo that I still have some work to do.

The land north of our fence doesn't belong to us. We've been led to believe that we have the right to clear a meter beyond our property line (and we're not exactly sure where that is), but nobody would take issue with what we've done.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

All that glitters

I frequently find things that are not gravel embedded in the gravel road that runs through the vineyard behind our house. I've seen pottery shards, chunks of brick, and glass of all colors. This one, glinting in the morning sun, caught my eye the other day.

A blue-green piece of glass in the road.

I was somewhat productive on Saturday and did some yard work. We have a fence that runs along the north edge of our property. The woods on the other side of the fence are aggressive and, back in 2012, we noticed that the young trees and vines threatened to take over the fence and pull it down. Ken and I spent a couple of days with gloves and cutters to clear the fence and create a space about a meter wide on the other side to keep the woods at bay. Since then, I run the lawnmower through every month or so in summer to keep the space clear.

Well, with this year's heat wave, I let it go for a while. The vines and brambles and small trees took advantage and started reaching for the fence. So yesterday I got out there with pruning shears and cut it all back and ran the lawnmower through. Phew! I also picked a huge bucket-full of ripe tomatoes and, after giving some of the nicer ones to a few of our neighbors, I'll make another batch of sauce today.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Hanging in there

I noticed this seed parachute (minus the seed) suspended in a spider's web the other day. It seemed to be just hanging still in the air. You can just make out the delicate threads of the web in the photo.

Can you see the strands of the web?

My stress test on Friday went fine. All readings were normal, except one: my blood pressure before the test started was elevated. I was anxious, I guess. The doctor agreed. My blood pressure at the end of the test was normal, actually a little below normal. The test was pedaling a stationary bike. I had eight or ten electrodes stuck to my chest and back to monitor my heart activity. Every two minutes the pedaling difficulty increased, as if I was heading up a hill. An automatic blood pressure cuff took readings at each level of difficulty. I made it up to level five before my legs gave out. The doctor asked if I could do another twenty seconds, and I did, but that was it.

I'm feeling good about the exam and the test. It appears that I'll be heading into my sixties with a relatively healthy heart. Next up: going to the dentist on Monday to get a lost filling replaced. Joy.

Friday, August 17, 2018


I'm doing a stress test today as part of my cardiac check-up. I had the cardiologist's exam last month, and he says everything looks good. So today I'll ride the stationary bike. This will be my second time in seven years.

Our wisteria is having a second bloom since the first back in the spring.

I do these check-ups since I turned 50 because of a history of heart problems on my father's side of the family. Better safe than, well, the alternative. The last time I did the stress test, I felt like the doctor made the bike too difficult too fast, and my legs gave out. He said it was fine and that I lasted long enough for the readings to be valid. I have a different cardiologist this time and I wonder if I'll have the same experience. I hope to do better, but I am seven years older.

Thursday, August 16, 2018


Most of the white grapes grown in our region are sauvignon blanc. There is some chardonnay, usually used to blend for sparkling wine, and two areas that grow chenin exclusively (Vouvray and Montlouis). But the vast majority is sauvignon.

The grapes are getting that golden yellow quality as they ripen.

I haven't counted, but it seems to me that about half of the grapes in the vineyard parcels around us are planted in sauvignon. There's a small parcel of chardonnay that I know of, and some pineau d'aunis. The rest is red: cabernet, côt, and gamay.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Don't get saucy with me, Bearnaise.

No Bearnaise sauce here. This is the first batch of tomato sauce this season. I trimmed up the tomatoes that had ripened, added a bunch of salt and several bay leaves (also from the garden), and boiled it down. This is pretty much the biggest pot we've got, and it was completely filled when I turned the heat on. Once the sauce is reduced and cooled, I'll run it all through the food mill to remove the skins and seeds. Then it will go into freezer containers.

The tomatoes, yellow and red, have started to reduce. The pot holds 11.4 liters (12 US quarts).

There are so many more tomatoes out in the garden that are not quite ripe. As they ripen, we'll eat some, but most will go into sauce. Some of the sauce will be further reduced and made into tomato paste. We like to use the sauce through the fall and winter months. It's some kinda good!

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Burs in the fur

It's bur season, and Tasha picks up a lot of them. The burs in this photo are the most common, but they come in all shapes and sizes. She often comes back from a walk with a twig or a branch of thorny blackberry or wild rose stuck in her tail. Thankfully, she's not afraid of the brush and comb I use to get the burs out. Sometimes she thinks it's a game. But she doesn't always like me tugging at her fur.

I've already forgotten if the flowers on these plants were yellow or white.

We're moving into another warm spell. My plan for the day is to pick a bucketful of tomatoes, trim them up, and make a batch of sauce for the freezer. Many of the toms got sunburned in our recent heat wave, but they're still good for sauce once I cut the burned part off.

Monday, August 13, 2018


The grapes out in the vineyard are getting riper every day. It's most obvious with the red grapes, but the white ones are also ripening, going from green to more of a golden yellow. I have no idea when harvesting will start, but I'll bet it will be a little sooner than normal, given the hot summer we're having.

I'm not good at identifying varietals. This is either cabernet franc, côt (malbec), or gamay.

In other seasonal news, I read that the hunting season for game birds (pheasant and partridge) opens on September 23 in our area. Wild hares can be hunted starting October 14. Organized hunts for deer, foxes, and wild boar were authorized starting back in June, but I haven't seen one happen in our area so far this season. It won't be long.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Carrots gone wild

There's not much more to say about wild carrot, known as Queen Anne's Lace in North America. Just that this has been a very good year for it and other umbels out in the fields and vineyards of our region.

The underside of a wild carrot flower.

I'm still pulling zucchini out of the garden. I found a couple big ones hidden under the plants on Saturday. They were too big to deal with, so they went right into the compost pile. Ken made some more zucchini "hummus" a day or so ago, and yesterday he made a shrimp and noodle stir-fry with zucchini, corn, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, and some of our tomatoes. It was delicious. Today we'll be making a big batch of ratatouille for the freezer, using more zukes and tomatoes from the garden along with some eggplant from the supermarket.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

It's still summer

Now that our major heat wave has ended and we're feeling some more normal temperatures, I catch myself thinking about fall. Too soon, I know. Summer still has more than month to go. But chilly mornings and shortening days foreshadow what we all know is coming.

The wild carrot flowers remind me that it's still summer, but it does look kind of like a snowflake...

I look at all the leaves on the trees and imagine them turning shades of yellow and orange, then falling to the ground. The vineyards are quiet right now, but it won't be long before the harvesters are humming out there. We're already getting the "back to school" advertising flyers from the local stores. It's time to order firewood and fill up the heating oil tank. We need to remember to take advantage of the good days we're having (like this nice warm weekend) because autumn is closer than it seems.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Let's call the whole thing off

ToMAYto? ToMAHto? However you say it, we got it. Them. Those. Deez. Doze.

The yellow tomatoes are really coming in right now.

Now we have to figure out what to do with them. We're eating some every day, but we can't eat enough, so it's our annual sauce 'em, dry 'em, stick 'em-in-a-stew time.

Thursday, August 09, 2018

Happens every year

There is a certain point every year when I lose control of the vegetable garden. Sometimes it happens because of rain. Rainy weather prevents me from dealing with weeds, and the rain makes them grow even faster. This year, I think, it was the heat sucking the motivation out of me. And the weeds grew. And now I've lost control.

My well-ordered garden always becomes a messy patch of weeds toward the end of the season.

I was able, over two days last week, to get out there and prune the tomatoes by removing the big lower leaves and, in the process, pull some of the weeds that grow up around the plants. It's important to keep air flowing around the tomatoes to reduce humidity and the possibility of mildiou (tomato blight). I don't think anything can kill the zucchini.

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

Cool change

The heat wave has broken. Last evening, a west wind kicked up. It was a hot and dry wind, and our temperature was well over 30ºC (close to 90ºF), but at least the air was moving. The winds lasted into the night and it felt good.

The days of wearing just shorts and a t-shirt on morning walks are numbered.

This morning, the low is not much lower than it has been all week, and with the breeze it feels cool. But today's high is not expected get anywhere near yesterday's. It's also overcast this morning, meaning that it's darker than it has been. The days are shortening!

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Tasha Tuesday

This is something Tasha does on nearly every walk through the vineyard. She hunts field mice. Or, more accurately, she hears something moving in the grass and sticks her nose in to investigate. Sometimes she'll even pounce like an arctic fox going after a rodent under a foot of snow.

No mouse goes unsniffed.

Today is supposed to be the hottest day of our heat wave. Yesterday was particularly uncomfortable, and today is expected to be worse. This past week I've been closing up the house completely after lunch, keeping an oscillating fan going in the living room. By doing this, I've managed to keep the inside temperature a few degrees celsius below the outside temperature during the hottest part of the day. Then, after sunset, the temperature outside starts to fall and I've been able to open up again. But it's still hot.

Wednesday will bring relief. Then we can start complaining about how chilly it is.

By the way, just after yesterday's sunset, at around 22h00, I saw the international space station fly by just to our south. I checked on the internet to verify that it was indeed the ISS, and it was!

Monday, August 06, 2018

Hot air

See the little red dot in the middle of this photo? That's a hot air balloon off in the distance. It's one of the few balloons I've seen this year, which is unusual, especially given the lack of stormy weather. Normally we have balloons flying over the house several times every summer. They drove Callie crazy. This year, the few I've seen haven't got much closer than this one, and Tasha has yet to experience one up close. Maybe that's a good thing.

A red balloon hangs in the sky off toward the northwest.

I wonder if it has to do with the warm, still air. Maybe the balloons are taking off closer to the things they want to fly over (like châteaux) since there are no significant air currents to take them off course. Or, maybe there are just fewer balloons. Is business bad? No idea.

Today and Tuesday are supposed to be our hottest days of this heat wave, predicted to get up into the mid 30s C (upper 90s F). The temperatures are expected to drop to more normal levels on Wednesday as a system moves through with thunderstorms.

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Boulettes de courgettes

Deep-fried zucchini balls are a perennial favorite of ours. They're a good way to use some of the zucchini that keeps on coming from the garden. For this batch, I grated one of the larger zucchinis. The seeds weren't well formed yet, so I left them in. But if the seeds are large, they can be tough, so it's good to remove them before grating the squash. I used the fine blade in the food processor to grate the zucchini.

The balls are shaped and resting before frying.

I salted the grated squash and let it drain before squeezing out the excess water. Then I added some finely minced flavor ingredients: shallot, jalapeño pepper, ginger, and cilantro. I mixed all that in and added chick pea flour to hold it all together. I think wheat flour or even finely ground corn meal would work just as well. I formed the balls and let them rest so the flour could absorb the moisture in the mix.

Zucchini balls and chicken wings served with a côtes du Rhône red. Summer finger-food!

When it was time, I deep fried the balls in batches and drained them on paper towels. We served them with a spicy sauce. Yesterday, it was a mix of plain yogurt and Thai sriracha (hot pepper) sauce. I've always heard that it's good to eat hot and spicy food when the weather is hot. The balls were a great accompaniment to a batch of spicy chicken wings that I cooked on the grill. We ate a refreshing garden tomato salad later in the evening.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Bad night

I had a lot of trouble sleeping last night. It's just too hot. And it's supposed to get hotter. One weather site is predicting 34ºC (over 93ºF) for Monday and Tuesday. Météo France, the French national weather service, is predicting 35ºC today and 37ºC on Tuesday (that's 95ºF and 98.6ºF, respectively). Yikes!

A patch of wild carrot flowers.

After that, things are supposed to cool down significantly. But we're in for a few more very uncomfortable nights. Meanwhile, we're cooking on the grill as much as we can. The zucchini is still coming in. I'm planning to make boulettes de courgettes (deep-fried zucchini balls) as part of lunch today, but they get done on the stove.

Friday, August 03, 2018

A tropical heat wave

Have I mentioned that it's hot? We're not at 2003 levels, but it's mighty uncomfortable around here this week. The evenings are the worst, when the air is still and the sun's still shining at bedtime. Thank goodness it's not particularly humid. The best time of day is now, early morning. As I type this at 06h30, my thermometer says that it's 21ºC outside. That's about 70ºF, and it will likely be our low temperature for the day.

Red grapes starting to turn.

Meanwhile, out in the vineyard, the grapes are starting to ripen. There's a tractor outside this morning doing some trimming. I'm sure the growers want to get their day's work done before it gets too hot out there. There's no shelter from the sun out among the vines.

Thursday, August 02, 2018

Waning gibbous

The moon has been shining brightly for the last couple of weeks. Not because it's any brighter than normal, but because our nights have been clear with very few clouds to obscure it. We actually got to see, if we were up late, the recent lunar eclipse. The only other total lunar eclipse that I can remember seeing happened in March 2007. I stayed up and got some photos of it.

The waning gibbous moon at around 07h00 on Monday morning as Tasha and I headed out for our walk.

This week's heat wave is building in and it's predicted to last through the weekend, at least. The mornings are relatively cool, so we open all the windows to let the cool air in. We also have a big fan up in one of the loft windows to help blow warm air out (and suck cooler air in) during the night.

Wednesday, August 01, 2018

First tomatoes

And so it begins. I picked the first batch of tomatoes from the garden on Tuesday. They're small, but they are the first to ripen. If we're lucky, there will be many more to come. There are some mighty large green toms out there. Two of the yellow tomato plants seem to be suffering from blossom-end rot, but the other three show no signs of it.

We'll probably enjoy these sliced with mozzarella and basil. Yum!

The weather is supposed to be hot all week with highs of 33ºC (over 90ºF) by Friday. That should help things along. As July turned out to be zucchini month, August should be tomato month.