Friday, July 19, 2019

Wild chicory

I remember these common summer flowers as "cornflowers" when I was younger. Here in France they're known as chicorée sauvage (wild chicory). They bloom from mid-summer to early fall. Around us, they grow in the margins around vineyard parcels and in fields that have been left fallow.

Beautiful blue chicory flowers make their annual appearance in the vineyard and on the blog.

Wild chicory, along with wild carrot (Queen Anne's Lace), are the typical wildflowers we see at the peak of summer. I wonder if they're a little advanced this year because of the heat.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Sécheresse

Drought. It's official: we're in one. Major portions of our département, the Loir et Cher, are at drought level red. Water restrictions are in place that prohibit irrigation, watering lawns, washing cars, and filling pools and fountains. Watering vegetable gardens is only allowed between 8pm and 8am. We haven't had rain in over a month, we've already had a week-long heat wave, and another is predicted for next week, with daytime highs expected near 100ºF for several days in a row.

The wild flowers are drying out. Early? I'm not sure.

This is very similar, although not yet as bad, as it was in 2003 when we moved here. France, with the exception of the Mediterranean coast, had a reputation for being wet and chilly. No more. Our winters have been mild lately, with little or no snow. And while we had a wet spring this year, it wasn't enough to counter years of rain deficits. The level of the Cher River is at a historic low, and the Loire is lower than it has been so early in the season. The water tables are not being sufficiently replenished. The situation reminds me of the years we spent in California.

This coming week will be difficult, especially for sleeping.

My information comes from the web sites of the Préfecture du Loir-et-Cher and our local newspaper, La Nouvelle République.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Kale

This is a variety of kale called Red Russian. It's the second time we've had it in the garden, the first being two years ago, I think. This year, a gardening friend gave us little seedlings, her surplus, back in the spring. They took off in the garden and were looking real good until a few days ago. We suffered an attack of flea beetles; they bore tiny holes in the leaves. This happened the first time we grew them, too. It's just a matter of waiting until the beetles go away (they do) and new growth takes over. We'll probably be able to harvest good-looking leaves in the fall.

Red Russian kale, just before the flea beetles got to it.

For two years we also grew Tuscan a.k.a. "dinosaur" kale, also attacked by and recovered from flea beetles. There is still some of that in the freezer, so we didn't grow any this year. A few years back we tried some curly leaf kale in the garden. It was good, but it turns out that the curly leaves are difficult to clean, so we gave up on it. These two varieties are easy to deal with, once the beetles go away.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Tomatoes

The first tomatoes are forming now and all of the plants have blossoms. The first harvest is still a while away, but I'm already looking forward to it. There are thirty-two tomato plants of different varieties in this year's garden. If we're lucky, there will be beaucoup tomato sauce in the freezer this fall.

These handy plastic clips hold the tomato stem to the support. They're reusable; this is their third year in the garden.

We're still enjoying sauce from last year's harvest. We also make and can tomato paste, which is essentially sauce reduced to a paste in a slow oven. And then there are the dried tomatoes, a good ingredient for many winter dishes. But the best part is having tasty tomatoes fresh from the garden for salads, burgers, pizza, and other summer favorites.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The first zukes

I picked our first two zucchini of the season on Sunday. I sliced and grilled them; we ate them with grilled sausages and pasta. I didn't take any pictures, but here's an shot of the plant they came from.

A zucchini blossom in the garden. There's a tiny zucchini just to the left of the blossom's top petal.

Sunday was a busy day. I put up three mirrors, which meant lots of measuring and drilling holes in the walls. All went well with no mishaps. One of the mirrors went in the bathroom, one in the downstairs WC, and the third was relocated from the downstairs WC up to the loft.

There was also some Tour de France to watch, not to mention the nearly five-hour men's tennis final at Wimbledon. We were rooting for Federer, but Djokovic eked out the win. I noticed that Federer actually won more games than Djokovic (36 to 32), but Djokovic got the winning third set (of five) in a tie break. That's just how tennis works. So much for the grass court season. Now things will swing to the hard courts and the build up to the US Open in August.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The summer deck

In good weather, we enjoy the additional living space we get on the deck, which is just off the living/dining area on the main floor of the house. Our house is what's commonly called un pavillon sur sous-sol (a detached house over a basement). In our case, and common around here, the basement is not below ground, but on the ground level, and the main living level is one floor above the ground.

The deck faces east. The umbrella helps to shade the table from the hot mid-day sun.
This year we have basil, chives, and parsley in addition to the flowers on the deck.

I've seen many houses like ours where the owners have completely closed in the deck with glass, adding a permanent indoor space to the house. But I enjoy being out on the deck in the summer, even if the space is not very usable in winter. Having the barbecue on the deck is more practical than it was out in the back yard. It's closer to the kitchen and I don't have to go up and down stairs to get to the grill.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Funky feline fotos

On Friday morning's walk, Tasha and I found Bert out by the pond. He likes to stalk the critters out there. It's probably mice who come to the pond for water. I've never seen Bert take a frog, and the pond is full of them right now.

Bert is 13 years old now, and he's starting to go gray!

A few weeks ago, Bert showed up with a limp, favoring his front left paw. It was swollen, but he let us manipulate it. He was also walking, going up and down stairs, and eating normally. We waited a few days to decide about taking him to the vet. When we took Tasha to the vet last year for a sprained leg, the doctor examined her (ka-ching!), took an x-ray (ka-ching!), and prescribed an anti-inflammatory (ka-ching!). Then we waited for it to get better, which it did.

Bert among the vines. The pond he likes to stalk is just out of the photo on the right.

So we didn't do that with Bert. His leg is back to normal now, and he's hunting again. A lot. He's brought at least one mouse home every day for the past week. Had we thought the leg was broken, we would not have hesitated to take him in, but his injury had all the appearances of a sprain or maybe a fight injury, so we let him heal himself, and he did. I wonder how many "lives" he has left...

Friday, July 12, 2019

A blanket of green

When the grape vines are freshly trimmed, the vineyard can look like a green blanket covering the empty spaces between patches of woods. It depends on the angle, of course. Like here, it's hard to tell that there are empty spaces between the rows of vines.

The summer vineyard under sunny skies.

We're experiencing a dry spell right now. No rain for weeks, and none in the immediate forecast. The sun shines brightly most days, and it's hot (although not as hot as it was during our recent heat wave). Our lawn, such as it is, is brown. This is nothing new. We've had many a summer with a dry spell like this (we've had other summers that were rain-soaked). The question is: when will it rain again? The grape vines have deep roots and they can easily survive these spells. But other agriculture needs rain. Grains, sunflowers, and corn are grown around us. The corn is routinely irrigated but the other crops are not.

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Le potager

Here's a lousy photo of the vegetable garden. The bright sun is great for the plants, but not so great for photography. It's difficult to distinguish individual plants, but you might notice that at the base of each vegetable plant is a thriving patch of weeds. They're a mixture of crab grass, purslane, and other unwanted weeds. I try to pull them out, but they have roots deep and strong. I water each plant using a watering can, so the weeds thrive where the water goes. If I used a sprinkler, the whole garden would be lost under a mound of weeds.

A wide view of the garden. Behind the watering can on the right is the oregano patch.

The snow peas along the back trellis are turning yellow and dying now, but on the right side the yellow flat beans are climbing nicely. The tomato tripods are holding up with most of the tomato bushes climbing about halfway up at this point. On the left in back are two zucchini plants, in front of them are nine pepper plants and, to the right of that, a row of kale. The left-most tripod in front is planted with eggplant.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Like a tunnel

In yesterday's post, I talked about clearing the fence line on the north side of our yard. Later in the day, I went out and took a photo. With the bright sun the photo is a little contrasted, but it gives you the idea of how close the woods are to the fence. The space we try to keep clear is looking more like a tunnel these days, but it's not as closed in as it looks.

The woods outside our yard are on the left. Just to the right of the fence is a hedge of hazelnut trees.

There is still a lot of work to do to get the tall grasses and other plants trimmed off the actual fence, but the main thing is that there is space between the woods (and blackberry brambles and rogue grape vines) and the fence itself. Without that space, the woods would take over, and likely destroy, the fence. We had the fence put in soon after we moved in sixteen years ago, mostly to keep our dog Collette inside the yard but also to keep the deer out. It's holding up well, as long as we can keep the woods away.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

Here's Tasha stopped along our morning walk route to check out something that made a noise in the grass. It was probably some kind of little rodent scurrying around in the undergrowth. She hears them often and likes to pretend she could catch one.

Tasha inspects the wildlife along the vineyard road.

Because of the spring rain and the heat wave, I didn't get out to clear the fence line on the north side of our property this year. The saplings and brambles don't waste any time filling in the space between the woods and the fence. In addition, the wind storm had blown two small trees over. They landed on the fence, but did no damage. When it happened, I cut the trunks with a hand saw where they touched the fence, but the rest stayed put. So yesterday I got the chainsaw out and cut the trunks down to the ground. I also got the hedge trimmer out and cleared the vines and blackberry brambles (thorny!) to about a meter from the fence. Then I ran the lawnmower over the strip to finish the clearing. A productive morning.

Monday, July 08, 2019

Summer sunrise

This was Saturday morning's sunrise at around 06h30. It was warm when Tasha and I went out for the morning walk, shorts and tee-shirt weather. It wasn't long until the day got hot.

Sunrise over the Cher Valley.

It's a little cooler now, but it's still nice and summery. Our house guest leaves today, so we need to get back to finishing up the bathroom work. There's not much to do, and the builder still has some little things to finish. Having the half-bath upstairs is really making a difference, especially with a guest in the house. I'm glad we finally did it.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Veggie update

It was touch and go for a while with the courgettes (zucchini) this year. I think they languished too long in the greenhouse before getting planted outdoors. But they've come through and now they have blossoms, so we should get a good crop.

One of two zucchini plants in this year's garden. I think two will be enough.

The yellow flat beans are climbing vigorously up the trellis at the back of the garden. I'm looking forward to an abundant harvest (knock on wood) starting later this month. Their predecessors, the snow peas, are done now. The heat wave did them in as they prefer the cooler weather of spring.

The yellow flat beans are looking good so far.

The other plants are growing well, too. They're mostly tomatoes (some with fruit already!), but there is also kale, peppers, and a few eggplants.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

The heat is back

It's not as bad as last week's heat wave, but the air is hot and still again. Friday's high temperature was in the low 30sC, the mid-80sF. The same is expected today. The vegetable garden is having a good time. The zucchini are starting to flower now.

The tall grasses and wildflowers are competing with the grape vines in some places.

Today is the official start of school summer vacation. Tourist season is under way. The châteaux and zoo are big draws in our region. It doesn't mean much to us except that there is more traffic on the roads. We'll probably see our Parisian neighbors a little more over the next two months.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Little grapes

The grape flowers are disappearing and grapes are forming on the vines out back. The cycle continues. As summer goes on, the grapes will get bigger until the onset of fall, then they will change color before the harvest gets under way. But let's not rush things.

A bunch of baby wine grapes.

We are expecting a friend from San Francisco to arrive today. However, when I checked his flight status this morning, I found out that his plane had a mechanical issue and was diverted to Newark, NJ, where it still sits as I write this. At this point, our friend will certainly miss his train connections, so we'll have to stand by to see when he actually lands in Paris and what he decides to do. I'm writing this and posting it early to let him know we're watching, in case he accesses the blog en route. Traveling can sure be a pain in the derrière.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Neat and tidy

The growers out back have spent the last week trimming the grape vines. They have a special tractor that's fitted with spinning blades both vertical and horizontal. As they drive up and down the rows, the blades trim the sides and tops of the vines.

The summertime vineyard.

We're having very normal summer weather now. Dry, pleasant, and not hot. Our high temperatures are in the mid to upper 20sC (mid to high 70sF). The vegetable garden really loved the heat wave and the tomatoes had a growth burst. We have blossoms already. I've been doing some weeding and, of course, watering. I'm back in control for the time being.

Inside the house, we're slowly getting things back to normal. I'm expecting the builder back today to finish up some details. Fingers crossed!

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Don't let the stars get in your eyes

These little flowers look like stars. I'm not certain what they are called, but they grow close to the ground around the edges of the vineyard parcels. When they're fully open they look like tiny petunias or morning glories.

These could be "liseron des champs," but I'm not sure.

The plumber finished his work on Tuesday morning, and the builder is getting very close with just a few minor finishing touches to complete. We're starting to put things back together and reorganize.

Now we have two half-baths in the house. Let's see... do two half-baths add up to one whole bath? Ha! The expression "half-bath" doesn't exist in French. The room with a toilet and a sink is called a WC (Water Closet). The salle de bains (bath room) is where the bathtub and/or shower are. That way, someone bathing doesn't block access to the toilet. Très pratique. Our salle de bains has a tub and a shower stall, along with a large sink. Oh, and a bidet. While there is traditionally no toilet in a salle de bains, that is starting to change. There are toilets in the "bath" rooms of some of the rental houses we've stayed in recently.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

We still got roses

Not all the flowers burned up in the recent heat wave. These pink roses are in our back yard. The plant is in a relatively shady spot and that may have helped to keep the blooms fresh looking. I have plans to rip it out, though. I just don't like where the plant is and it's spindly and not very pretty. Except for the flowers.

A pretty shade of pink. And the French word for pink is "rose."

The plumber came on Monday and got the small sink and basin off the wall (in pretty good shape, too) and installed the new one. We like it much better, and it's much more in proportion with the room. I don't have any photos, yet, but they're coming. Ken has some photos on his blog today if you want to see them now.

The builder is expected back today for some minor drywall work and finishes (like a shelf and the baseboards). I'm not sure when he'll be completely done, but we should have two functioning WCs by the end of the day. Yippee!

Monday, July 01, 2019

Walnuts

The walnut tree that grows out along the vineyard road is covered in nuts this year. It seems to me to be more than there were last year, and the year before. The nuts will mature and will start dropping in the fall. They're usually too small to be worth gathering.

Young walnuts on the tree.

The heat wave has broken! Sunday was still hot, but much less so. And this morning it's downright chilly outside. Our high today is only expected to get up to 24ºC, which is about 75ºF. I'll take it.

Our builder came by on Sunday afternoon to ask if he could come in and get some work done. Of course, we said! He got the framing and drywall installed in the downstairs bath. The next step is the taping and mudding of the joints, before undercoat and paint. Then the plumber can install the new toilet.

I assembled the new cabinet for the upstairs sink early Sunday morning. I let the plumber know that it's ready to be installed. I'm hopeful he'll come over today and do that. There's still some taping and mudding to do on the drywall upstairs, but that's a lower priority than getting the downstairs done.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

It's too darn hot

Saturday felt hotter than any day during the current heat wave. Last night was bad. The house has heated up and sleeping is extremely uncomfortable. The good news is that it is expected to be significantly cooler today and for the next few days. Already this morning, at 06h00, a nice cool breeze is blowing through the house. Perhaps the worst is over.

Roses are fading fast in the heat.

We're keeping the vegetable garden and deck plants watered, but elsewhere the heat and lack of rain is becoming visible. I realize that I was complaining about the rain not very long ago, but when it doesn't rain for couple of weeks around here it feels like a drought.

I drove over to Tours on Saturday morning and got the new cabinet and sink for the half-bath. I also picked up a few other things we wanted. I won't name the big-box store I went to, but they sell Swedish meatballs that come with pictogram instructions on how to prepare them. And an Allen wrench. ;)

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Hot stuff

She wasn't called Donna Summer for nothing. Our heat wave continues. Thursday was expected to be the peak, but Friday was hotter. We topped out at 35.8ºC (just over 96ºF) on our outdoor thermometer. The mornings are getting warmer, too, as the ground gains more and more heat. Fortunately for us, we are not down south where temperatures are seriously hot.

The rozanne geraniums are enjoying the heat. You can tell I'm not the most meticulous weeder.

The work has stalled in the bathrooms for the weekend. The builder has another job he needed to start, and the plumber is stuck waiting for him. He should be back on Monday and things should get back on track. There's not much left to do, but we decided to make one change. We're finding that the little sink in the new WC is just too small, so we're going to replace it. I'm heading out this morning to get the new one. The plumber stopped by yesterday to look at the specs and make sure the replacement would work and he gave us the green light. Photos to come.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Reach for the sky

The grape vines out back are growing vigorously. Soon, the trimming tractors will be plying the rows, cutting the sprawling tendrils back, creating neatly squared-off rows of vines. They do this, I think, to force the vines' energy into grape production rather than leaf production.

The grower who owns these vines has been out mowing down the tall grass between rows these past couple of mornings.

Our daily heat wave update: Thursday was a hot one. The high temperature at our house was 34.9ºC (about 95ºF). The humidity was a little higher than it has been, but it's certainly not oppressively clothes-drenching humid. Thank goodness. We're expecting another day or two with highs in the low thirties before the heat breaks. Please pass the lemonade.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Sultry

The weather is all the news in France right now. It's hot and humid over most of the country and today is expected to be the hottest. Yesterday's high on our sheltered outdoor thermometer was 33.7ºC (about 93ºF), but it's much hotter in the sun and on the deck. This morning our low is about 24ºC (about 75ºF). And the weather people say that all-time record highs will be broken today.

Wednesday morning at around 06h30 in the vineyard. It's much more hazy out there this morning.

Days when we can wear shorts and a tee-shirt on our morning walks with the dog are rare, maybe a few days a year. We're having them now. The air is hazy, and although the relative humidity drops in the heat of the day, it's around 90% over night and in the morning. By the way, this humidity is nothing compared to the very hot and humid places in the USA, like on the east coast and across the south. In France, humidity usually comes with cooler weather. They're not used to it when it's hot. Still, I know one Frenchman who is enjoying it.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Roses

One of our part-time neighbors has several rose bushes in her yard. She did some serious pruning last year and this year the roses are covered with blooms. This one is supported by the fence that runs along the vineyard road.

Our neighbor's pink rose bush just a few days ago.

Tuesday's high temperature reached 31.1ºC (about 88ºF) on our outdoor thermometer. Today we're expecting it to get just a little higher than that. Thursday is predicted to be the peak with one weather site saying the temperature will top out at 35ºC (95ºF) while another says 41ºC (about 105ºF). Evening is the worst time inside the house, but once the sun sets (right around 10:00 pm) things begin to cool off, albeit slowly.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Bloomin' heat

These are grape flowers in bloom. You really have to look hard to see them, but they're there. As the flowers fade, little grapes will form and grow into a more recognizable bunch.

The flowers have tiny white stamens, I don't think there are petals.

The heat is building in. Our outside thermometer, located in a shaded spot on the north side of the house, recorded a high of 30.4ºC (almost 87ºF) yesterday . It was hotter on the deck, though. This morning it's 21.7ºC (about 71ºF) outside and all our windows are thrown open. Cool air is moving through the house. The peak of the heat wave is expected on Thursday or Friday.

Monday, June 24, 2019

The green green grapes of home

The vineyards in our region have donned their full summer green. The grape vines are flowering now. Little bunches of grapes are on the way. The weeds are also thriving thanks to a rainy spring. And now we're entering at least a week of heat. Météo France is saying we will get up to 40ºC on Thursday and Friday. That's 104ºF, something we haven't seen since 2003, I think.

Summer finally showed up, with a vengeance.

Sleeping was uncomfortable enough last night, and we were only in the high 20s. Sleeping in the high 30s is going to be very difficult, with only fans to move the air around. We will be sure to stay hydrated. Oh, and I dug out the recipe and started making ice cubes.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Attack of the weeds

The weed invasion is more or less under control in the vegetable garden. For now. I still have more to do, but the majority of the little weedlings have been plowed under. Oh, they'll be back, but with a stretch of dry days ahead, it will take some time.

You can see what's left of the green mat of weeds along the back and on the right side of the plot. There's more work to be done!

The tomato plants are getting tall enough now to attach to the legs of the tripods, or tee-pees if you prefer. I've also started pinching suckers from the central stems. And I've sprayed a few times to prevent the mildew fungus from attacking. Phew! The plants should enjoy the coming heat wave, as long as I keep them watered.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Spare grass

That's what I and my siblings used to call asparagus when we were kids. I don't remember any of us actually liking it. I detested the stuff. It would make me gag. All that's changed now, of course. I really like fresh asparagus, green or white, when it's in season. The season is pretty much over now, locally. Asparagus plants have been left to flower and go to seed and their roots will recharge for next year. Out in the vineyard, among the vines, rogue asparagus plants (those whose seeds were dropped by birds) are also producing berries.

These asparagus berries will turn bright red when they ripen.

Summer is here, and the weather people are saying we're in for a heat wave this coming week. Serious heat. I'm talking upper 30s C, which is the high 90s F. Yikes! I spent some time on Friday morning weeding the vegetable garden. The recent rain has sent the weeds into a frenzy. I've got to get them now before they get out of control.

Friday, June 21, 2019

WC progress

Here's a little update on the first days of the bathroom work. You will remember that, at long last, we are adding a half-bath to the attic/loft space. The plumber did a good deal of work behind the walls, installing water supply and drain lines. Then the builder started to add the framing for the room itself.

Here's the "before" shot. The plumber is already working in the closet space under the eaves.

Next, the plumber put in the support chassis for the suspended toilet. The builder will then frame that in and the plumber will hang the sink and its cabinet (once it's delivered). There's some minor electrical relocation that will be done for the light fixture and an outlet.

Part of the wall is framed (aluminum studs) and the toilet bracket (the blue frame) is in place.

Once all that is done, and the toilet is installed, the plumber will remove the downstairs toilet to connect everything. He'll replace it with a new suspended toilet and the builder will box that in as well. Then we'll see what finish work will need to be done. I think we're going to repaint the downstairs WC when the construction is complete.

G. and L. pose in front of their great work.

And now it's looking like a room. Here's a nice shot of the builder and his partner as they were finishing up on Thursday afternoon.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Mauve

These little mauve, or purple, flowers look like blackberry blossoms to me. The plant's stem is thorny, which is what makes me think it might be a blackberry. The plant is very small, therefore young. I saw it on the edge of one of the vineyard parcels out back where there are many bigger blackberry brambles. Most of the berries are eaten by the wildlife.

The purple flowers caught my eye.

Work continues on the upstairs half-bath. Some of the framing of the room is up as is the chassis for the toilet. We're getting "suspended" toilets for both WCs. They don't touch the floor, but hang off the wall. All the brackets and mechanisms for flushing are hidden behind the wall. It's a clean look, and it will make actual cleaning much easier. We'll be sure to post photos once they're installed.

Meanwhile, Ken has ordered the sink, cabinet, and faucet that will be installed upstairs. They should be delivered between now and the weekend. The sink and its cabinet are also "suspended" from the WC wall, so there will be nothing touching the floor!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Hot start

Tuesday was as hot as the forecasters predicted. And it was humid, for us. And, our plumbing contractor showed up and started work on the new half-bath. First, he fixed a problem with the sink in the existing WC. Then he started drilling through the ceiling and wall to run the waste drain pipe down from the loft to connect to the existing sewer pipe.

Little daisies next to a puddle.

At that point we had our first mishap. He inadvertently drilled through the roof, breaking one of the tiles. Fortunately, we have surplus tiles, so he was able to get the ladder out and replace the broken one. The builder will be joining the plumber this morning to start constructing the walls for the new loft WC.

Just in case you're unfamiliar with the term, WC [doobluh-vay-SAY] stands for "water closet," an English term for the room where the toilet is. The French use the initials but never the words. Often they'll abbreviate the pronunciation to just VC [vay-SAY]. They also call them les toilettes, especially in restaurants or other public places. There are other terms, but I'll just leave it there for now.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Grape flowers

The vineyard is blooming. Not that you'd notice. Grape flowers are tiny and only visible if you look closely. Those pictured here were not quite open when I took the photo, but they are by now. Soon, the little grapes will form and start to grow.

These grape flowers are on the verge of opening.

Today work is supposed to start on the half-bath in the loft. There's some plumbing that has to be done to install a water supply line and, of course, the drain line before the fixtures can go in. There's a little electric re-wiring to be done as well, but nothing major. I'm not quite sure what the sequence of work will be, but if we're lucky we'll find out today.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Just a bowl of cherries

That's life. And, that's the main ingredient in clafoutis aux cerises. I got a pound of black cherries at the market on Saturday so that I could make this standard French dessert. It's a very simple baked custard with whole cherries. So good!

A bowl of cherries in the morning sun.

To make it, you put the stemmed and rinsed cherries (most French people don't pit the cherries; they believe they keep their flavor better that way) in a single layer in a buttered baking dish and pour on the custard. That's made with a little flour, four eggs, some sugar, and about a cup of milk. Then it's into a moderate oven for about half an hour, until it puffs up. Let cool and serve.

The finished clafoutis. It sinks a little as it cools. You don't pit the cherries, so be careful when eating!

Sunday actually turned out to be a nice day. Tasha helped me pick up sticks that had been blown out of the trees by the storm a week ago. Most yard work is a game for her. Today I plan to get some of the grass cut. I'll finish it up on Tuesday. I barbecued pork chops for lunch yesterday. Today it will be grilled chicken satay along with another harvest of snow peas. Yum!

Sunday, June 16, 2019

It's only a day away

This happens every year. At some point, cool and damp weather will turn warm and dry. The forecasters often show the change happening "tomorrow." It's cold and rainy today, yes, but tomorrow the temperature will shoot up and the sun will shine. The next day, it's still cold and wet, but the sun'll come out, tomorrow! Rinse and repeat. We've been promised nice weather tomorrow for about four days now. We're still waiting for tomorrow.

Everything has been a bit drippy lately.

The grass has taken advantage of all the rain and is shooting up, but it's still too wet to cut. Monday, i.e. tomorrow, should be the day. They're predicting sun and 24º (that's 75ºF). We shall see. UPDATE: After I wrote this, the sun came up in a clear sky. It's tomorrow!

In addition to strawberries, I got some black cherries at the market on Saturday. This morning I'm planning to make a clafoutis (kla-foo-TEE) with them. I'll try to remember to take photos.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Raindrops on rozannes

The rozanne geraniums are starting to bloom now. They're perennials and this is their second year in this location in the back yard. I originally had them in pots on the deck, but they wanted more room so I put them in the ground. They seem to like it.

I really like the deep blue/purple color of these flowers. And they bloom all summer and into fall.

The days are warming up, but very slowly. Still, we're having small evening thunderstorms with rain. I haven't needed to water the vegetable garden in over a week and, with all the rain, the weeds are growing. Once it dries out I'll need to get out there with the hoe and do some weed control.

Friday, June 14, 2019

More peas, please

On Wednesday, I harvested another batch of snow peas from our plants in the garden. They're really producing and this is the third batch we've had. Ken made a stir-fry with chicken this time and it was delicious.

Snow peas from the garden, trimmed and ready for the steamer.

I pulled the stems and strings off the peas and steamed them before they went into the stir-fry. That way, they have a head start on cooking. I'm not a big fan of crunchy (read: raw) vegetables in finished dishes the way many Californians are. As our friend CHM once told a waiter in a fancy Bay Area French restaurant: the green beans are good, but they would be better if they were cooked.

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Now wait just a berry pickin' minute

A friend invited me to go pick strawberries on Monday. The morning was overcast and cool, perfect weather for picking berries inside polyethylene tunnels. I picked up my friend at her house and drove to the farm. It's about 35 kilometers away. There weren't many people there (Monday was a holiday) and we had a whole tunnel to ourselves. We picked berries for about 45 minutes.

Fresh berries for shortcake and "fraises au vin rouge" (strawberries in red wine).

After picking, we had our berries weighed and paid for them. I had picked eight kilograms (about 17 lbs.) of berries! It didn't seem like so much when I was picking. And the price was right at €1.50/kg. We're eating fresh berries, of course, but there were so many that I had to process and preserve most of them.

Whole berries frozen on a tray. I didn't take a photo of the coulis.

The first thing I did was to wash and trim the berries. I then picked out some nice berries and froze them whole on a cookie sheet. We'll use them to make jam or something at some point. I also just froze some whole berries in freezer bags. Those, too, will probably end up as jam later. Most of the berries got made into a coulis de fraises, a puree of strawberries, that we'll use later to make frozen yogurt and other desserts. I ended up with five 750 ml containers of coulis, about four quarts worth.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Croquembouche et fines bulles

Here's an interesting bit of French culture. The traditional wedding "cake" in France is tower of puff pastries filled with pastry cream, "glued" together with sticky caramel. Often there is a layer or two of nougatine (caramel nut brittle) inside and/or as an ornament on top. The pièce montée is frequently called un croquembouche (it crunches in your mouth).

The croquembouche pièce montée just before serving.

So, for Sunday's 40th wedding anniversary celebration, our neighbors treated everyone to a beautiful croquembouche. There was also a shorter, wider tower and a tray of additional puff pastries served to ensure that there was enough for the 85 or so guests in attendance.

The Champagne is served!

And, just to make it a real celebration, bubbly wine was offered to all. It was a very tasty Beurton Couvreur Champagne from just south of Reims. In the interest of full disclosure: I've never met a bubbly wine I didn't like.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

A party and old friends

I mentioned that our neighbors across the road had a party this past weekend. It was a large gathering that started on Saturday and continued through Sunday. There were still a few folks there on Monday, too. The weather wasn't great, but it was good enough not to spoil the fun.

That's B. enjoying some shade and conversation on Sunday afternoon.

The house belongs to B. and M. who live in Blois, about 40 kilometers north. It has been their vacation home since the 1970s. Now that they're both well into their eighties and no longer driving, they've handed the house over to their eldest daughter and her husband who, it turns out, were celebrating their 40th wedding anniversary over the weekend.

The family matriarch M. surrounded by family and friends. She's standing in the middle of the group (with the light blue top).

B. and M. came down for the Sunday portion of the party and Ken and I were invited in the late afternoon for dessert. That's when we learned it was an anniversary party; we didn't know in advance. It was very nice to see B. and M. (we hadn't see her since last summer). They were in fine form and good spirits. We spent about an hour chatting and catching up.

And just to show she can still party with the best of them, it's "bottoms up" with a glass of bubbly.

Most of the guests at the party were family, many of whom we've come to know (and some who we've seen grow up) over the years. Children, in-laws, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of B. and M., plus friends, gathered for food and drink. It's a big family, and ever since Ken and I arrived in the neighborhood sixteen years ago, they've generously included us in many of their festivities.

Monday, June 10, 2019

Wild bellflower

This is campanule sauvage (wild bellflower). They grow among the tall grasses between the vineyard parcels and the woods around us.

Campanule sauvage along the vineyard road out back.

Sunday started out cool and rainy, but toward mid-day the clouds parted and the sun came out. That was a good thing for our neighbors' party. We were invited for dessert in the afternoon. I took a bunch of photos, but I haven't processed them yet.

Sunday, June 09, 2019

Sea of green

The vineyards out back are getting greener as the tendrils and leaves reach skyward. Soon the support stakes will be hidden from view and the growers will be out trimming the vines into neat rectangular rows. Summer is almost here.

Saturday morning, after the storm had passed.

Except for the weather, of course. We're having very spring-like (even fall-like) weather right now. Chilly days, rain squalls, wind. It turns out that our neighbors didn't take their party tent down during Friday's wind storm as a precaution. Rather, a branch of a nearby tree came down on top of it. Their party went on in spite of having no tent on Saturday and will continue through the weekend. I'll bet there were at least thirty cars parked across the road yesterday afternoon. This morning there are about five.