Saturday, August 31, 2019


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


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


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


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 !

Monday, August 05, 2019

First tomatoes

The first tomatoes of the season are ripening. I harvested some red and yellow cherry-style tomatoes on Saturday. They were enough for two good-sized salads. We added oil and balsamic vinegar, mozzarella, and fresh basil for our Caprese salad course.

The first tomatoes from the 2019 garden.

The bigger tomatoes are still green, but if we're lucky, it won't be long before we can start picking them. The zukes keep coming in. On Sunday I made an old favorite: deep-fried zucchini balls. I grateed some zucchini, added minced onion, ginger, and hot chilies, bound the mixture with some chick pea flour, and formed small "meatballs" before deep frying them to a nice golden brown. We ate them with a spicy peanut sauce.

Sunday, August 04, 2019

The hamlet

Tasha and I walked around the edges of the vineyards on Saturday morning, in the spaces between the vines and the woods. We encountered a deer along the way and Tasha took off after it. She doesn't go far and I caught up with her after a couple of minutes. In the meantime, I took this photo of our little hamlet at sunrise.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of little hamlets like ours dot the landscape of rural France.

I call our little collection of nine houses a hamlet. Since there is neither a church nor any business, it doesn't qualify as a village. I think it might be referred to as un lieu-dit (a place with a traditional name). Wikipedia says that a lieu-dit is not necessarily inhabited, but that un hameau (a hamlet) is. So, our little group of houses, called La Renaudière, fits both definitions.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

A blustery day

Last Tuesday we had a chilly and windy day. I thought a movie of the wind blowing through the trees would be a good way to remember it. My video making skills are nil, but this is what I got. Of course, the wind stopped blowing as strongly as it had been a few minutes before taking the movie, but you get the idea.

The view from our deck. The video runs for less than a minute.

Since Tuesday, we've been back to mostly warm, almost hot days. And dry. Do I sound like a broken record? It's an interesting summer, this year.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Pots on the deck

I was sitting out on the deck yesterday afternoon and thought this view of some of our potted plants looked nice, so I snapped a photo. The weather has turned summery again, but nowhere near as hot as it was not long ago. It's still dry, though.

Potted plants on the north end of the deck. The red flowers are dipladenia a.k.a. mandavilla.

So, the daily watering ritual continues in the vegetable garden and on the deck. The basil and chives are doing well, probably because it's been hot, but the cilantro has bolted and is flowering. Out in the garden, I picked three more zucchini and several yellow cherry-style tomatoes, and some of the peppers are forming now.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

À sec

This is a small pond on a neighbor's property. It's completely dry. The pond was never really full, and it was cleaned out and enlarged a few years ago. I believe it was once where used water and waste from the neighbor's house went to soak into the ground. Since the neighborhood got its sewer line, it's not used for that any more.

This pond is normally a couple of feet deep, but it has completely dried up because of the drought.

The pond outside our back gate is not dry and seems to have plenty of water in it. It's also full of frogs, an invasive river weed called jussie or ludwigia (water primrose), and it even has a small stand of  massettes or typha (cattails). I remember one year early on when the town trucked water up from the river to keep the pond full. I think that's where the jussie came from. "Our" pond is not on our property, but is owned and maintained by the town and serves as a reserve for fire fighting. That's probably why it's kept filled.