Sunday, September 15, 2019

Hardy

These are the Jerusalem artichokes that I planted in front of the garden shed a few years ago. Apparently they don't fear neglect. I think I watered them once this summer. It's been so hot and very dry, as you know, and yet they hang in there. They're not as lush as they have been, but there they are.

The shed has seen better days. The dry ground shrinks beneath the building and cracks form in the facade. The same thing is happening to our house, and to a good number of houses across the country.

Today will be the hottest of our current warm spell before the temperatures drop to more seasonal levels, according to one of the weather sites I look at daily. Météo France, the national weather agency, predicts that the warm spell will continue for the next ten days. Who to believe?

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Picked

I'm assuming these are were sauvignon blanc grapes. This is what's left after the mechanical harvester passes. It strips the grapes right off their bunches, so there's supposedly not a lot of excess material that needs to be separated out at the winery.

Some grapes are left behind.

I read that in some wine making regions, like Sauternes and Champagne, the grapes are picked by hand to ensure that the wineries get whole bunches intact (in fact, some properties in Sauternes pick individual grapes and make several passes through their vineyards during the harvest, a practice that contributes to the high price of Sauternes). When whole bunches are picked by hand, the grapes stay on the stem right up to the crushing process and very little precious juice is prematurely released or lost. I have seen the mechanical harvesters emptying their bins and there is quite a lot of juice being poured into the trailer along with the grapes.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Les vendanges

That's the French word for the grape harvest, which got under way in our area on Wednesday. I saw two harvesters out on Thursday, two different growers picking white grapes in their respective parcels. It's interesting how small some of the parcels can be and how they make up a patchwork of different varietals and different owners.

A harvester and trailer, both pulled by tractors, get into position for the morning's work.

It's also interesting to look at the different styles of harvesting. A few parcels are picked by hand. In some grape-growing regions of France, like Champagne and Beaujolais, hand-picking is required by law. In other areas, vineyards may be too steep or otherwise not able to accommodate harvesting machines. I read somewhere that hand-harvesting is done in much of Burgundy because pinot noir grapes are too fragile for the machines. There is a little pinot noir grown in our region, but not much. Hand-picking is not required by law in our area, so I wonder if it's a marketing thing for the high-end wines.

Tractor-pulled harvester on the left, newer driven harvesting machine on the right.

In the photo above, there are two types of harvesters. On the left is an older model that is pulled by a tractor. On the right, a more modern model that is driven, no tractor necessary. In each case, the machines vibrate and suck the grapes off the vines (I'm sure there's a more elegant way to say that). When the harvester's storage bins are full, the operator will empty them into a larger trailer (below). When that's full, another driver takes it to the winery for processing while the harvester continues to pick.

A special trailer for transporting grapes to the winery a few kilometers away.

As I wrote this, just after seven a.m., a harvester and a trailer drove past the house and out into the vineyard to begin the day's work. The sun's not up yet, but the weather is supposed to be hot today and I'm guessing the growers want to pick their grapes in the cool of the morning when they might be less susceptible to damage.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Harvest moon

This year's harvest moon rises tomorrow, on Friday the 13th (technically, the moon hit's "full" early Saturday morning, just before it sets). I understand it's called a "harvest" moon because it's the full moon closest to the equinox, which happens on the 23rd of September this year, and the start of the harvest. And, true to the moon's reputation, the harvests have begun. We're picking tomatoes, and the growers are picking grapes.

There's a sprinkling of fallen leaves in our yard. More have fallen since I took this picture.

I don't have any photos of this year's grape harvest, yet. The first mechanical harvester worked the vineyard parcels most of Wednesday morning, picking first a plot of chardonnay then moving on to the sauvignon blanc parcels. The reds will be picked later, I assume. On my walk with Tasha last evening, I sampled a grape here and there. They're sweet and tasty.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Getting saucy

Our first big tomato harvest of the year happened over the weekend. So, on Monday I made sauce for the freezer. I trimmed and cooked the toms with some salt and a few bay leaves. I didn't flavor the sauce any more than that since it will be used in different ways over the months to come. We will flavor it depending on how we eat it when the time comes.

Except for one, each of these containers holds about three cups. The taller one holds five.

I let the sauce cool overnight, then on Tuesday I ran it all through the food mill to remove the skins and most of the seeds. I ended up with five quarts of sauce. We'll eat some of it in the next days, but most of it went into the freezer. There are still a few quarts of frozen sauce from last year to use up. I think we're up to the challenge.

The food mill before I rinsed it off. Luckily, it cleans up pretty easily.

But the freezer is getting full. So when the next harvest comes in, I plan to make sauce again, but reduce it to tomato paste and can it. We do some every year and it works very nicely. The paste is a great addition to so many recipes.

Speaking of harvests, the parcel of chardonnay on the north side of our house was harvested on Tuesday. For whatever reason, the chardonnay grapes are always among the first to be picked. So the 2019 harvest is on!

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Yes, but is it art?

I noticed this the other day. Its a section of one of those plastic sleeves the grape growers use to protect newly planted vines from the elements. And it's stuck on top of a end-of-row post. Why? To get it out of the way? To mark a certain row? Or just for fun? We may never know.

It will probably fall off once the harvesting starts.

The mornings are chilly again, which seems normal for this time of year. The indoor temperature is getting low enough that the central heating could kick on. I keep dialing it down to keep that from happening. I don't think we need heat yet. But the thermostat resets itself each evening (it's a setting I've chosen and I don't feel like messing with it), so one of these mornings we may hear the boiler fire up. Of course, warmer days are predicted this week and the morning temperatures may rise again.

Monday, September 09, 2019

Sleepy hamlet

Now that summer vacations have ended, our little hamlet is quiet. Not that it was a rockin' hub of activity before last week, but things seem a little calmer now that fall is approaching. Our Parisian neighbors have gone back home, and our neighbors from Blois haven't been down much in recent weeks. The mayor and her husband were out of town over the weekend, and there are still two houses unoccupied, although we understand they've both been sold, or at least the sales are pending.

Our hamlet among the vines above the Cher Valley on a late summer afternoon.

The grass isn't growing much, so there's not much mower noise in the neighborhood. Someone did cut the grass at one of the unoccupied houses during the week. I suppose that once it sold, the previous owner stopped cutting and the weeds started to take over. The same happened at our house sixteen years ago. When we moved in, the grass and weeds were nearly waist-high.

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Saturday afternoon walk

Tasha and I walked out into the vineyard on Saturday afternoon as the weather system that came through mid-day was breaking up. We had a brief rain shower just after lunch that didn't amount to much. The vineyard was still as dry as a bone when we walked.

Looking west at about 18h00 on Saturday afternoon.

I looked at the long-range forecast for our area this morning. There's no rain predicted for the next ten days, and the high temperatures are expected to be in the mid 20sC (mid 70sF). Of course, the weather people don't always have a lot of luck with the long-range forecasts, so anything can happen. But their weather models are saying we'll stay warm and dry for a while yet.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Still hanging in there

We're both wondering when the grape harvest will begin. The grapes are looking pretty ripe, but looks, of course, don't count. What counts is the amount of sugar in the grapes vs. acid, something the growers test with a tool called a refractometer. I've seen the growers out back testing the grapes this way over the years, but not yet this year. Other factors come into play as well, but I'm not an expert.

Ripening grapes getting close to harvest time.

I have seen some of the vineyard workers out there doing something. I guess that they're preparing the rows for the mechanical harvesters, cutting back overgrown vines and clearing away anything (like weeds or damaged grape bunches) that shouldn't be sucked into them. Before long we'll be hearing the hum of the harvesting machines, but not before a few of the parcels get harvested by hand.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Dry, dry, dry

It's hard to imagine all the rain that southeast US coast is getting right now. It hasn't rained much here all summer. Grass and shallow-rooted plants are suffering. Even some of the trees look a little less lively than normal. If a tree can look lively.

The artichokes in our garden are as dry as the Atacama Desert. I'm surprised that they're still standing.

Ken's keeping close track of the hurricane news since much of his family is in coastal North Carolina. He's in touch with his sister by email, but is not sure how long that will last if (when) the power goes out.

Meanwhile, I've hidden away the Sharpies.

Thursday, September 05, 2019

A treat from the market

Last Friday, Ken and I went over to the nearby town of Montrichard and to their weekly market. We wanted to get another bunch of shellfish to finish off the paella. We also found some nice ripe melons, which of course means that we needed some jambon cru (cured ham) to serve with them. So we stood in line at a charcutier (like a deli) stand to get some. In the deli case were these tasty-looking savory pastries made with scallops called croustade de Saint-Jacques. Scallops are called coquilles Saint-Jacques in French, which refers to the shape of the shell being the symbol of Saint James. We got two.

Croustade de Saint-Jacques. Ken added the parsley.

We heated them up in the toaster oven and served them as an appetizer. They were a tasty treat and we decided they'd be worth getting again. It turns out that the people that run the charcuterie have their base in the town next to ours. They don't do the Saint-Aignan market on Saturdays, but they are in Blois twice a week, in Selles on Thursdays, Amboise on Sundays, and of course Montrichard on Fridays.

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

A little mystery

About a week ago, I noticed that someone had dumped five piles of dirt in a field out at the end of the vineyard road. It's limestone "dirt" with very large limestone rocks mixed in. Each pile is almost as tall as me. At first I thought the dirt would be used to resurface the vineyard road, but on closer inspection I saw that the big rocks haven't been crushed into a usable gravel, at least not yet.

Five mysterious piles of dirt at the end of the road. Aliens?

The field is agricultural, so no buildings can be built there. There are no electrical, telephone, or sewer lines available out there, nothing but vineyards and woods. I'm assuming that the town put the dirt there, but I don't know. So, for now, the mystery remains. Who put those piles out there and why?

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

Tasha continues to help me in the garden. She's there when I water, when I weed, and when I harvest. Her duties are limited to barking and running around. I'm grateful because my barking and running around skills are not what they used to be.

More and more tomatoes are ripening. Tasha barks to remind me.

I can feel the summer slipping away. The days are noticeably shorter; we lose a few minutes of light every day now. Apples are falling from the trees (just the apple trees). The morning lows are dipping lower and the afternoon highs are not as high as they were. The equinox is less than three weeks away.

Monday, September 02, 2019

Before and after

There has been so little rain that I haven't had to cut the grass much this year. It had been fifty-eight days, nearly two months, since the last cut when I got the new mower out there on Saturday. I would have cut a week earlier if the old mower hadn't broken down.

Before: a bright sunny and hot day in the west 40 before I cut the weeds.

As you can see in the "before" photo above, there's not much in the way of grass. The lawn is mostly weeds and wildflowers kept in check by mowing. When it's dry, certain of the weeds send up their flower stalks, especially the wild carrot (Queen Anne's lace). It doesn't really look like it needs mowing until, at a certain point, it does.

After: almost the same shot, overcast and wet on Sunday, the day after I ran the new mower. Neat and tidy! Well, almost.

I was surprised at how much dust flew when I cut this time. The grass is burned to a crisp and there are many dead leaves and pine needles on the ground. The mower is a mulcher that pulverizes what it cuts; a cloud of dust followed me as I mowed. That wasn't too good for breathing, but I got through it. Now that it's rained again, I wonder how long it will be until the next cut?

Sunday, September 01, 2019

The new mower

I'm saying good-bye to our eight-year old lawnmower. Some metal part that held one of the front wheels on sheared off and is beyond my ability to repair. Getting it repaired professionally is probably not worth the expense, given that other things will start going wrong anyway. Our first mower lasted eight years, and now the second has given us eight years.

I didn't think to take a picture before I used the mower, so it's a little dusty.

So we went shopping, first on line and then to a local hardware chain, and found this. It's the same brand as the other two. I put it together last week, but yesterday was the first time I used it to get a large section of the yard cleaned up. The mower works great. There are two things that are different from the previous models. There's one lever to change the cutting height so I don't have to adjust each wheel independently. The second difference is that it has rear-wheel drive instead of front-wheel drive. I have to get used to that.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Curious

The dirt road that goes through the vineyard parcels behind our house is full of curiosities. Every year, the town fills the potholes that form in the winter. The fill is mostly crushed stone, but there must be other things in it. I've seen glass, brick, and other materials that are not from nature exposed as the road wears down. This seems to be a hunk of concrete with some lettering molded in.

It's hard to tell what words these letters are part of.

We're having nice weather right now. Warm, not too hot, dry. But the weather people say that will change on Sunday with a drop in temperatures and weather system moving across the country from the northwest. There may even be some rain. At least we're not facing a hurricane, like they are in the southeastern US.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Here come the beans

In the spring I planted a row of yellow flat beans along the garden's trellis. They sprouted quickly and started climbing, but then they slowed down. I suspect that the heat waves had something to do with that. But a week or so ago I noticed blossoms, and now the beans are forming.

The beans are getting bigger and are starting to turn yellow.

I hope the crop is good, because we like flat beans. Green flat beans are usually available in the markets and they're really good. I wonder if this year's weather will have had any impact on the commercial crops.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Still producing

The zucchini are starting to pile up. I've got to process them and freeze them before they go soft. I guess we're not eating them fast enough, even though we seem to eat them almost daily. I like to grate them in the food processor and freeze them. Then, later in the year, I can thaw the grated squash for fritters or for zucchini bread.

I picked this one after I took the photo. I can see at least six more growing on this plant. Yikes!

Last year we had a bumper crop of potimarron, those red kuri squash that have a nice chestnutty taste. To preserve those, I roasted them and froze the flesh. There is still a lot of it in the freezer for making pumpkin pie and pumpkin bread this fall. I was smart enough not to grow any this year.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

A stormy evening, a restless night

For about an hour last evening we experienced rain. Not a lot, but a steady mild rain with some rumbling thunder. We were on the edge of the storm because we consistently heard the thunder to our west as it moved northward. It was nice to get some rain, but it had stopped by nightfall and the stars came out in a mostly clear sky.

One of our roses is producing flowers again.

I had another bad night of sleep or, rather, lack of sleep. My legs will not calm down. The moment I lie down, my leg muscles tense up, just short of cramping. I constantly want to move them, stretch, or get up and walk around. It keeps me from falling asleep. I've read about "restless leg syndrome" and how nobody really knows what it is or how to deal with it. This has been going on for a long time, but it's been much worse in the past few months. I suppose I'll mention it to the doctor when I see him this fall, but I'm not certain what, if anything, can be done.

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Cabernet franc

I think this is cabernet franc, one of the red wine cépages (varietals) grown in our region. The other two are gamay and côt (known in other regions as malbec).  All three varietals grow in the vineyard parcels around our house.

The grapes are ripening now. It will be interesting to see when the harvest begins this year.

The primary white varietal here is sauvignon, but there are small amounts of chardonnay grown for blending. In the vineyards of Vouvray and Montlouis, not far from us on the Loire, they grow chenin blanc almost exclusively. One of my favorite local wines is a rosé made from pineau d'aunis, a very localized grape that I learned about when we moved here. The rosé made from pineau d'aunis can be very pale, crisp, and dry. That's the way I like it.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Another heat wave

Last night was very uncomfortable for sleeping. I didn't get much, except for a couple of hours early this morning as it cooled off. We got up over 33ºC (over 91ºF) on Sunday. It's supposed to be a little warmer than that today and Tuesday. I'm thinking that the only thing making this heat not as bad as June's and July's is that the days are getting shorter this time of year.

The knapweed (I think) flowers are long gone, the pods are brown, and the seeds are floating away.

Our yard is burned to a crisp, as are most of the neighbors' yards, except in areas that are sheltered from the sun. Even those are extremely dry due to lack of water. I think the moles have moved down into the ravines where it's shady and probably damp, where they can find food. The mice and voles may have followed them, judging by the fact that Bert hasn't brought one home in a while.

What a strange, hot summer it's been. We're looking forward to fall.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Death in the vineyard

If you look closely at this vineyard storage building, you will see that one of the grape vines that grows against the wall has died. The vine was one of four that grow on the southern and western walls of what's called la cabane de vigne or du vigneron (the vine grower's cabin). These grapes were never harvested as far as I know, but have always been nibbled on by passersby (including me).

I walk by this cabin (and that tree) nearly every day with the dog.

Each year, the vineyard workers prune those vines back as they do all the other vines, and each year the vines grow robust leaves and produce grapes. But now one is gone. It will be interesting to see if the grower decides to pull it out and replace it. If anything happens, it probably won't happen until the winter pruning season.

Saturday, August 24, 2019

A possible comeback

It's too early to tell, but our kale crop is showing signs of recovery. Earlier this summer, the beautiful red Russian kale plants were ravaged by flea beetles, their leaves chewed into skeletons, which eventually went brown and withered. But I kept watering the plants daily hoping that the roots were still living and might send up new leaves as fall approaches.

New growth on the kale plants, but also some signs that the flea beetles are back, too.

So here's what they look like now. The leaves are not beautiful, but they are growing. I'm hopeful that they will come back fully and we'll have a fall crop. As a preventative, I will spray the new growth with soapy water, which I read the flea beetles don't like, in an attempt to control their population and minimize their damage.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Wild grapes

They're not really wild. It's a parcel of wine grapes that has been abandoned, likely because whoever owned them retired or passed away without a buyer or someone to take over the business. So the parcel sits untended and the weeds and shrubs and trees begin to take over.

A pretty shade of pink.

Meanwhile, grapes continue to form and ripen to the delight of some of the wildlife, I'm sure. We're having another heatwave, by the way. It's not predicted to be as bad as the other two we had this summer, but the peak is expected on Sunday with a high near 36ºC (about 97ºF). Ugh.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Normal tomatoes

These toms are of a more normal size. And they're supposed to be, so something worked in the garden, despite sizzling heat and drought. More and more tomatoes are turning red and we've started harvesting them, one or two at a time. There's is some blossom-end rot out there, probably related to the wet spring followed by the hot, dry summer. Tomatoes can be persnickety.

These tomatoes have no label and I have no memory of what they're called.

The temperature is supposed to get up into the low 80'sF starting today and for the next few. I'm back to watering every day. I actually cut the "grass" (weeds and their flower stalks) in part of the yard on Tuesday. Then one of the front wheels of the mower decided to detach. I plan to have a look and see if it's fixable today. The mower is eight years old now, exactly the age of its predecessor when we retired it back in 2011. I've already picked out a new one on Amazon. You know, just in case.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Tiny tomatoes

A funny thing happened on the way to the tomato harvest: some of them didn't grow. I think that the two heat waves and the overall lack of rain contributed to the stunted growth of several of the plants in this year's garden. Namely, the roma tomatoes. The plants didn't get much more than two feet tall, and the fruit, of which there is not much, is tiny. Like, smaller than cherry tomatoes.

These golden nugget tomatoes are supposed to be small.

The romas this year might be good in a salad, but that's about it. I guess they needed more water than I gave them, although I don't think I watered less than usual. I just had to water every day. The other tomatoes in the garden are looking more normal-sized, except for one plant labeled cœur de bœuf (beef heart tomatoes) whose fruit looks more like cœur de grenouille* (frog heart tomatoes). Oh well. It could be that I got some bum seeds, or that I somehow mixed up the labels between the greenhouse and the garden. Can't rule out pilot error.

These romas are about the same size as the golden nuggets.

* I made that up. There's no such thing.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Tasha Tuesday

It's Tasha in the tomato patch. She was helping me water and take photos, so I let her get into the act. The toms are starting to turn red now. Too bad that the weather has been chilly. It's supposed to warm up again soon, so that should help.

The other photo was technically better, but she's smiling in this one.

The yellow flat beans have taken their time, but they have blossoms now, so I'm hopeful that there will be beans in our near future. The eggplant have flowers, but no sign of fruit yet. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Still got basil

I picked another bunch of basil on Sunday. We made fettuccine with pesto sauce for lunch. The twist was the cheese. Because we live in the countryside, getting anything other than the standard French cheeses is difficult. I like pecorino Romano cheese, but that's Italian (THAT'S Italian!). We do find imported parmesan and grana padano locally, but they are cow's milk cheeses. Romano is made from sheep's milk. A whole different flavor.

Green and purple basil still going strong in the garden.

Fromages de brebis (sheep's milk cheeses) abound in France, of course. But I've not seen it aged to the point of being dry enough to grate, as Romano is. We wondered if we could do it at home. Ken got some French brebis (made in Basque country) and sliced a hunk off for an experiment. He wrapped the cheese in paper towel and stuck it into the cheese drawer of the fridge, then just left it alone for nearly seven weeks. Yesterday, we looked at the cheese and it was dried to perfection. He grated it easily and, voilà, we had our own home-made version of pecorino Romano!

Sunday, August 18, 2019

No photos

I'm scraping the bottom of the barrel. I haven't taken the camera out in a few days, mostly because it's been raining off and on. And we're expecting more scattered showers and/or thunderstorms this afternoon. Although, I must say, we haven't had thunder in quite a while.

A little row of wildflowers, out of focus.

On Friday, Ken and I left Tasha home alone again while we went to a local winery to stock up. As usual, she got excited about going somewhere when she noticed us getting ready. I did hear her bark and whimper a little as we left, but she was fine and happy when we got back home. I think she's getting it. We'll leave her again a time or two over the next weeks so she'll be used to it by the time we have our September meeting.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

Upstairs

We had what we call the "loft" built out in 2010. It's the attic of our house, made into one big room. Because our budget was limited, we decided not to have a bathroom built up there then, but to wait until later. Well, later came this year.

The new half-bath from the outside.

The result is a new half-bath, or wc, in the northwest corner of the room. The plumbing was tricky. At first we thought the drain would go outside the house, down to an underground pipe that would connect to the sewer line on the other end of the building. Our plumber said that was possible, but it would be very expensive. He suggested an alternative that kept the plumbing inside the house, across the attic in the closet space, and down to where the existing toilet connects to the sewer. It turned out to be a good solution.

Here's the "before" shot, but without the furniture we kept in the corner. You can see the closet space behind the radiator where the plumbing was installed.

So, now we have a half-bath in the bedroom area of the loft. No more need to go down a flight of stairs in the night. And it helps when we have guests. The old wc shares a wall with the guest room and, well, one can hear everything. But no more!

Inside the new half-bath. There's a small hot water heater behind the sink so we don't have to wait for hot water from two floors down.

We're very happy with the work and the result. There are still some things to hang on the walls, but that won't take much effort. I also like the way the large loft space looks with the new room in the corner. It adds a little more visual interest.

Friday, August 16, 2019

And now for something completely different

I know that Ken has already shown photos of the work we had done this summer, but what the heck. It's my turn. The work is essentially done, although a few finishing touches remain. These photos are of the wc and bathroom on the main floor. I'll show photos the new work in the loft tomorrow.

The old wc, with new toilet, half-wall, and even a new mirror over the old sink. We had some of the blue paint left from years ago. And while the old paint has faded a bit and the colors don't quite match, it's good enough for now. The only thing missing is a strip of black baseboard on the floor behind the toilet. That's being made now and will be installed when it's ready.

In addition to getting the new half-bath in the loft, we replaced the toilet in the old wc with a new suspended model. That required building a half-height wall to hide the workings, which was necessary anyway to hide the plumbing that goes from there up to the loft. Originally the idea was that the pipes would come down from the ceiling in the wc, but that seemed like it would be too cramped. Ken came up with the idea to bring the pipes down on the other side of the wall, in the much larger bathroom, then through the wall to the wc where the existing drain goes down to the sewer connection.

The column in the corner hides the new plumbing. Notice the now-white pipes below the towel warmer. It took three years and about five minutes for me to paint them. That tile (wall and floor) is original to the house and in good shape, so we've never changed it.

The drain pipe comes down from the loft (and the water supply line goes up) in a corner of the existing bathroom. The pipes are hidden inside a column that our builder constructed. I painted the column the same color as the bathroom walls. I also finally painted the copper pipes that feed and drain the towel warmer/radiator, a small job that's been waiting for three years to be done. I finally got a "round tuit."

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Good dog

So, yesterday was the day. Ken and I loaded the recycling and an empty butane bottle (for the gas grill) into the car. As usual, Tasha was all excited about the prospect of going somewhere in the car, but it was not to be. When I closed and locked the door with her on the other side, I expected to hear barking and/or whimpering, but there was none.

The contrast between the parched grasses and the lush grape vines is amazing.

We took about twenty minutes to dump the recycling and buy another bottle of butane at the supermarket. When we got back home, there was Tasha, happy to see us. No damage in the house, nothing out of order. She was a good dog. I gave her lots of praise and a few treats. Our next trip out will be to a local winery. It will take a little longer and, although we could take her, Tasha will stay home and guard the house. That's what I've always said to our dogs when we've left them. "Guard the house. We'll be back in a few minutes."

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

An experiment

It's hard to believe, but in the nearly two and a half years since Tasha has been here, we've never left her alone in the house. Except for very briefly when going across the street to our neighbors, only to ask if she's welcome (she is) and coming back to get her. We have an appointment in Blois in early September and I don't want to leave Tasha in the car. For one thing, it could very well be too hot to leave a dog in the car. And for another, we don't know how long our meeting will take and I'm not comfortable leaving her alone in a strange parking lot.

With the sunrise at my back, looking west over the vineyard.

So, we will need to leave her at home. Over the next few days, Ken and I plan to take short trips away from home (like to the store or the recycle center) and leave Tasha by herself, hoping she'll get used to the idea of being home alone and understand that we will always come back. I forgot how and when we did this with Callie, but I don't remember it being a problem. Callie hated the car, so I think she preferred to stay home. Tasha loves the car, so she may not be happy about not getting to go for a ride.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Not a tomato

This is a sweet pepper, although it looks like it should be hot, like a jalapeño. The photo is from last week and the pepper has grown a little since then. Our garden has about ten pepper plants this year of different varieties, all gifts from a friend who offered us her surplus seedlings in the spring. We haven't had much luck with peppers in recent years, but this year's hot weather has been good for these.

A sweet long pepper. We also have some hot ones out there.

I'm expecting a delivery of fioul (home heating oil) this morning. I like to get it in August before the demand (and price) goes up in the fall. I just realized that school starts again in three weeks. All that means for us is that there will be fewer vacationers around and the bridge traffic might ease up a bit.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Tomatoes [3]

Another tomato variety in this year's garden: Homestead. Ken brought these seeds back from North Carolina a year or so ago. From what I found on the internet, these tomatoes grow well in hot climates, which explains why he found them in NC. Lucky for us, this year has been pretty hot here and the Homesteads are looking good.

Homestead tomatoes on the vine.

Our builder stopped by last evening to drop off a container of paint. It's the color he used in our bathroom when we had the new shower built in 2016. I'm using it now to paint the column that hides the pipes that go up to the new half-bath in the loft. I'll put a second coat on today, and then that room will be done!

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Tomatoes [2]

This tomato variety is called cornabel, probably because the elongated, pointed fruit resembles a bull's horn. The variety was apparently developed from the cornue des Andes, a horn-shaped tomato from South America. These tomatoes were quite popular in local gardens a few years ago; almost every garden I saw had some. I planted some, too, but that was the year that blight ravaged our tomato crop and we really didn't get any good ones.

Cornabels on the vine. I'm looking forward to tasting them.

So I decided to try again this year. So far, so good. I read that these tomatoes are low in acidity and have fewer seeds than a typical tomato. We shall see.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Tomatoes

Our tomatoes are getting bigger, and a few of them are turning red. In fact, I picked two completely ripe tomatoes on Friday. We ate them along with some yellow cherry-style tomatoes in a salad at lunch time. I'm keeping my fingers crossed for good weather (no hail) while the crop ripens.

If my labels are correct (and I'm not certain they are), these are Fireball tomatoes.

One year a while back, our tomatoes were stricken with blight and we watched as they rotted on the vine. It was pretty disappointing. Since then I've used an anti-fungus Bordeaux mixture to help prevent le mildiou, as it's called. We've been lucky so far.

Friday, August 09, 2019

Le basilic

We enjoyed our pesto lunch on Thursday and have some pesto left over for another meal. Before I picked the basil, I took a few photos. It's a good year for basil, the leaves are lush and fragrant. I got the basil from a local guy who sells produce at the farmers markets in our area. In spring he has all kinds of garden seedlings for sale, especially tomatoes. I got one pot of green basil and another of purple. He warned me that they both tasted the same (he also had other varieties), but that was ok with me. I liked the contrasting colors.

Standard green sweet basil. I picked most of the stems that were starting to flower.

There were enough basil seedlings for me to make up three large pots of mixed color for the deck and also plant a bunch out in the ground. I didn't expect those in the ground to do well, but the weather was perfect (for basil) and they've grown amazingly well. They are the ones pictured here.

Luscious purple basil.

There was a little excitement in the loft last night. Right at bedtime we discovered that a bat had flown in through an open window. We must have spent half an hour trying to force it back out by flapping hands and blankets, running around the loft like crazed chickens. Through it all, Tasha just sat and watched in silence. The bat would fly up to an open window then turn and circle back around the rafters. Twice, I think, it actually went out a window only to turn and fly right back in. Stupid bat. At one point it went downstairs where we were finally successful in getting it out through the den. Phew.

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Not quite as high as an elephant's eye

The grass hasn't grown much this summer because of the drought. The last time I cut it was more than a month ago. Now, after yesterday's rain, I'm expecting a growth burst.

These tall grasses are not in our yard, thankfully.

Today I plan to harvest a bunch of basil from the garden to make pesto. We'll eat it on some fresh pasta that Ken brought home from the supermarket. Super U has a line of fresh pasta that includes tagliatelle, spaetzle, and fettuccine. The ingredients are few and wholesome. In the case of the tagliatelle, they're just flour, water, and eggs. As an appetizer, we'll eat melon and ham. Melons from the south and east of France are plentiful, delicious, and inexpensive this year and we've been enjoying them frequently with slices of cured ham. A summer favorite!

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Rain

During the night we had a brief rain shower. Then, early this morning, we had a more steady rain for what I think was an hour or so. I was snoozing in between drops. It's nice to have some rain, but it certainly won't be enough to put a dent in the drought. That task falls to winter this year. We'll see how it goes. Meanwhile, they're having quite violent thunderstorms in the south this morning. I'm glad it's not us.

An acacia sapling out on the edges of the vineyard.

I haven't checked the rain gauge yet, but I'm hoping that enough rain fell to water the vegetables and I can skip a day of hand-watering. Tasha and I will head out soon for our first "muddy paws" walk in nearly two months.

UPDATE: It's been raining for a few hours now. Rain gauge says 21mm (almost an inch), so watering the garden won't be necessary. Yippee!

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

A squash by any other name

The British use the French word: courgette. The Americans use the Italian word: zucchini. The Germans also use the Italian word. The Spanish use, well, I suppose it's a Spanish word: calabacín. And the Portuguese use the native Brazilian word: abobrinha.

Zucchini in our summer garden. It's a striped fruit, bush variety.

The zucchini originated in Mesoamerica but, according to Wikipedia, was developed into the modern summer squash we recognize in northern Italy.  Whatever you call it, I think zucchini is the definitive summer squash, ubiquitous, productive, and versatile. Bon appétit !