Friday, July 31, 2020

Thursday was pizza day

As planned, I made pizza with leftovers on Thursday. To stand in for sauce, I used some leftover ratatouille that Ken had made with tomato, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, and even some green beans last week. We also had some leftover smoked chicken. Ken took it off the bones and shredded it. I sliced a couple of leftover mushrooms and grated some brebis (sheeps' milk cheese) that was just past its use-by date. I topped it all with a few black olives.

The crust is crispy on the outside and doughy on the inside. And it's tasty, too!

I've adjusted the crust recipe (again) and am very pleased with how it's working. Instead of making the dough the night before and letting it rise overnight, I've started making the crust in the morning and giving it a three hour rise* before punching it down and kneading it lightly. By that I mean that I fold the dough over itself several times on a floured surface to redistribute the yeast; there's no long, hard kneading work. Then I separate the dough and form two equal pâtons (balls of dough) and let them rise again for an hour or so. I make the first crust (by hand, no rolling) and let it sit under a towel for about ten minutes before adding the toppings and baking. After we eat the first pizza, I repeat the process for the second.

The crust was good and the pizzas were delicious, if I do say so myself!

* After many years and some research, we realized that the dry yeast we get in the supermarket is "instant" yeast and not "active dry" yeast. I never understood the difference. Instant yeast needs less time to work, so I was letting my dough rise too long, essentially exhausting the yeast. We also tried fresh yeast, and that worked well, but it's not widely available where we live and it doesn't keep long, even frozen.

Thursday, July 30, 2020

Leftovers again

We've got some odds and ends in the fridge that need eating. Among them, a small portion of ratatouille and some bits of a smoked chicken. I'll add some mushrooms and cheese and make pizzas for lunch today.

A Gary Larson classic. At least in my mind.

It's going to be a warm day, but it won't be too warm to use the oven at lunch time. I hope.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

One more from the woods

Storm damage. We avoid the woods when the wind is blowing strong. Branches break, trees topple. So on windy days we stick to the open vineyards for our walks. Better safe than sorry. Besides, when the woods are windy, they creak and crack and sound kind of haunted. Boo!

Broken and fallen branches littler the woods thanks to windy storms.

We're in for a few rather hot days. It only makes sense; we're moving toward August. This weekend is the major summer chassé-croisé (criss-cross) between people who take their vacations in July and are returning home and those who vacation in August and are heading out. Fortunately, we are not traveling and don't have to worry about traffic on the autoroutes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Summer time

This is one of the paths that Tasha and I take once we get to the bottom of the hill to our north. It winds along next to one of the streams that gets its start in the vineyards above then flows (when there's water) down to the river. Behind me in this photo is a wooden house that's rented out as a gîte (vacation rental), complete with a swimming pool. I didn't take a photo of it because it was occupied and the family was out enjoying the pool.

The stream bed is to the left in this photo. Wheat fields to the right.

We did get up over 30º yesterday and sleeping was a little difficult. But we have no humidity to speak of, thankfully. They're predicting we'll be in the mid 30s (mid 90s F) by the end of the week. Uh-oh.

Monday, July 27, 2020


This is one of two fields of grain that are farmed down at the bottom of the path we take through the woods. It's often planted in wheat, but sometimes in barley or other grains. One year it was resplendent with sunflowers. Just a couple of weeks ago, the farmer harvested both fields. As fall approaches, he'll plow the fields and re-plant if he's growing winter wheat.

Looking northeast toward the river. It's behind those tall trees.

We had some rain on Sunday morning. Not a great soaking, but every little bit helps. Today we're back to sunny and hot. They're saying we'll hit 30ºC (86ºF) this afternoon. Yikes!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Nature takes over

Most of the woods around us are not very old. Patches are cut from time to time when the trees get too tall or old. I think a lot of people use the wood on their land for firewood. You can see when a landowner cuts down a patch of woods, he cuts the logs into one-meter lengths and stacks them to season for a year or two before they start disappearing. Some people sell their firewood, others keep it for personal use.

A stump decomposing in the woods.

It doesn't take long for the woods to regenerate. This stump along our walking path down through the woods to our north was likely cut within the last five years. The clearing where it's located has already grown thick with tall saplings. It almost feels like a small jungle. After a while the trees will mature and the undergrowth will be shaded and thin out a little. It's a pattern I've noticed in most of the woods around us over the years.

Commercial forests are maintained all around our region as well. They grow oak and other hardwoods as well as conifers. Not far from here is la Forêt de Tronçais, famous for producing much of the oak that wine barrels are made from. While growing, many forests are maintained as wildlife habitats and hunting grounds. When the time is right, large patches are harvested then replanted or allowed to regrow naturally.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

A walk in the woods

There's a path through the woods to the north of us that leads down into the river valley. I used to walk through there with Collette and then the route became a favorite afternoon walk with Callie. For the last few years, however, the path became overgrown with brush and brambles and we stopped going that way.

Tasha leads the way down the hill through the woods. At the bottom are some large wheat fields.

This past spring, however, someone (maybe the town) cleared the path and it's once again a pleasure to go down the hill and then back up (good exercise!) to home. It makes a nice change from our morning walks out through the vineyard. When it's hot out, the shady path stays cooler. And there are a couple loops at the bottom that we can take to vary the walk even more.

Friday, July 24, 2020


I harvested our first beans on Thursday! The green and purple beans are producing now, and I'm hopeful that we'll have several harvests before they stop. I'm looking forward to tasting these. They're quite fine, French style. And I'm betting that the purple ones turn green when they're cooked.

Beans! Beans! Good for the heart...

After I walk Tasha this morning, I'm going to take a load of stuff to the déchetterie (dump and recycle center). We're trying to get rid of a lot of junk and clutter this summer. Ken made a run to the Emmaüs charity shop yesterday, so we've made a good start. We've accumulated a lot of stuff over seventeen years, and it's amazing how much we haven't touched in all that time. I still had suits from when I was working that never got unpacked after the move. And who convinced us that pleated pants for men was a good idea?

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Dry dry dry

Remember when I was complaining about our soggy spring? Now I can complain about our parched summer. It's not particularly hot, just dry. It's normal. Every summer our "lawn" goes from spring green to summer brown. It reminds me of California summers. At least I don't have to mow so frequently.

Our brown lawn and green vegetable garden. You can see the pumpkin plants kind of wilting in the afternoon heat. They perk back up again when the sun goes down.

Every morning I'm out in the vegetable garden watering. I don't use a sprinkler because that would only encourage the weeds to form a jungle. I use the hose to fill a watering can and water each plant at its base. A drip system wouldn't really work for me because the garden's configuration changes every season; the drips wouldn't be where they're supposed to be from year to year. Not to mention the expense. I suppose I could use soaker hoses. I could deploy them differently each year. Still, I imagine a lot of water might go where it isn't needed. Something to ponder.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Greenhouse casualties

In the warm summer weather, we keep the windows and door of the greenhouse open for ventilation. Otherwise, it gets too hot inside. Naturally, open windows invite insects inside. But it's a trap. They get in, but they can't find their way back out. They fly incessantly against the glass, not able to tell where the open windows are. Eventually they tire and drop to the floor. Dead.

A couple of dead butterflies on the potting bench with an old fork for scale.

Butterflies, in this case, but also bees, dragonflies, mantises, and even a small bird or two get trapped in the greenhouse all summer long. I am able to get the birds out, so they survive, but insects are not as easy to catch and release. I don't really care about most flies, and bees are tricky because they can sting. Dragonflies, especially the big ones, are delicate, but I've had moderate success shooing some of them out.

We also get these critters in the house, since there are no screens to keep them out. I do shoo houseflies out rather than swat them against windows or walls. What a mess that is. It's easier to push them outside than to clean up after smashing them. Birds or bats in the house are less easy to shoo out, but it has to be done. Often it's a two man (and one dog) job.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Please don't eat them

The daisies, that is. I'm sure I've seen that movie, but I have no memory of it. I know I didn't read the book it's based on. So, naturally, I don't know what the title refers to. Probably something about silly city people trying to live in the country, a popular theme in 1950s and 60s America.*

There's a lone pink rose among the daisies.

This patch of daisies has been here since before we moved in, over seventeen years now. In late fall or early spring, I cut the dead stems down as close to the ground as I can. Then, in spring, they sprout again to flower in the summer. They look great in bloom, like this, but when they start to fade and die they look a little sad. That's the way it goes.

*With the exception of "The Beverly Hillbillies" who reversed the formula when they "loaded up the truck and they moved to Beverly. Hills, that is. Swimmin' pools. Movie stars."

Monday, July 20, 2020

Tomatoes from the market

Some, if not all, of the tomatoes I've been buying at the Saturday market are grown in Brittany. I'm thinking that they must be grown under cover (hot houses) to be protected from the coastal wind and chill, or they're grown well inland. Either way, the tomatoes are beautiful and they're full of flavor. While we wait for our own tomato crop to come in, these toms make for good eats.

The produce vendors at the market offer a variety of heirloom-type tomatoes each week.

We sliced one of the yellow tomatoes, called ananas (pineapple), for our grilled hamburgers on Sunday. Others will become Caprese salad with mozzarella cheese and basil. There are few things better than a fresh juicy tomato on a summer day.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Courge musquée

This variety of winter squash is called "muscade." It will look like a tan-colored pumpkin when mature, kind of the same color as a butternut squash, another related variety. Like the rouge vif d'Etampes, I've grown these before. We should have a nice pumpkin patch this fall. And a big job of processing the flesh for the freezer.

This one's got a lot of growing to do!

I had a good market day on Saturday, bringing home a melon, some radishes, and some tomatoes. I also stopped into a charcuterie in town for some jambon cru (dry-cured ham) to eat with the melon. I'm not sure where in France the ham came from, but the sign at the shop said jambon sec (dried ham) and I read that's a specialty of the Ardennes region of France. We ate half the melon and ham as our appetizer yesterday and it was delicious. We lucked out with a good melon again.

If you've not been to France in the summer, you might not be familiar with the typical pairing of cured ham and Cavaillon or Charentais melons. The sweet flavor of the melon, similar to the North American cantaloupe, goes very well with the saltiness of the ham. I know that dry-cured ham is made all over Europe, especially in Italy (prosciutto, Parma), Spain (Serrano), and Portugal as well as France (Bayonne).

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Red-ribbed chard

Seven red chard plants add a little vibrant color to this year's vegetable garden. A near-by friend found a good crop of volunteers in her garden this spring. I guess some of last year's crop had reseeded itself. She offered me some and I happily took them. We grew standard white-ribbed blettes (chard) in the garden for a couple of years and really enjoyed it.

Chard in the garden after an early morning shower.

So far these transplants look happy and healthy. I'm looking forward to tasting them. We've grown collards, kale, chard, and lettuce over the years. It's good to grow greens. They're delicious and nutritious!

Friday, July 17, 2020

That's more like it

The zucchini plants are producing now. We only have two plants, and we've already got three squash in the fridge waiting to be used. I grilled a fourth one to accompany yesterday's lunch. There might be one or two more ready to harvest today. Yikes!

I'm trying to pick them small, but sooner or later one is going to get away from me and become a baseball bat.

This is not an unfamiliar situation to anyone who's grown zucchini. We face it every year. In fact, I still have some zucchini from last year in the freezer. We're not worried, though. There's always something to do with zucchini.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

Pole beans

These are the climbing bean plants I mentioned yesterday. They're called "Mélissa." When the beans are mature, they'll look like green beans but will be a shade of purple similar to the stems in the photo. I've already seen tiny beans forming so I'm hopeful we'll have a good crop in the coming weeks.

Blossoms on the purple bean plants.

Wednesday was a damp day and not at all warm, but we're expecting summer to return in a day or two. Where have I heard that before?

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Dwarf beans

Also known as bush beans because they don't climb like pole beans. These are a variety of French dwarf beans called "Rudy." I planted them back in late May, now they're covered in blossoms. Beans are on their way!

These blossoms will soon turn into little beans.

There are two other bean varieties in this year's garden. Both are climbers, one is a yellow flat bean that I also grew last year, the other is purple bean called "Mélissa" that will look just like a standard green bean, only purple. It's flowering now, too, and little beans are forming. I'll try to get a photo of that one next. I think the blossoms are a pretty deep purple color.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Pumpkin patch

Okay, it's not really a "patch." More like two plants, separated from one another by two zucchini plants. This one is called rouge vif d'Etampes. When it's mature this fall, that shiny yellow orb should become a bright red color and significantly bigger than it is today. I've grown them once before with success. There are at least a half dozen forming on the vine. If they all survive, there will be a lot of pumpkin this fall.

This should become a big red pumpkin by harvest time.

I was able to get all the "grass" cut again over the weekend. I put grass in quotes because, as is usual in the summer months, the grass isn't really growing, but the weeds are. Many of them put up foot-high flower stalks and that forest of tiny yellow flowers is what needs mowing.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Ready for more?

How about a few days of vegetable garden photos? Here's what it looks like right now. It may look relatively weed-free from this distance, but I'm battling the purslane almost daily. On Sunday I planted out some habanero pepper seedlings that have been in the greenhouse, not growing, since they sprouted.

The chard (in the foreground) was a gift from a friend with a surplus. It's the red-ribbed variety.

So, to recap, this year's garden is home to twenty-four tomato plants, three kinds of beans, six bell pepper plants, two zucchini plants, two varieties of pumpkin, and eight chard plants. I'm not growing eggplant or cucumbers this year. I'll post a few close ups over the next few days.

Sunday, July 12, 2020


This photo is a week old, so some of this zucchini has already been harvested. I can count about six little zukes there. We're getting one or two a day right now from the two plants in the garden. I'll get out there later with the camera for some more up-to-date images.

The round-leafed green plant on the right is pourpier (purslane). It's hard to get rid of, but it's supposedly edible.

The market was fun yesterday morning. But, it being the first second Saturday of official summer vacation and the long Bastille Day weekend, it was crowded. I got the last empty space in the adjacent parking lot and it took me a while to get out after I finished my shopping. I should have parked elsewhere. Still, I got some nice tomatoes, a melon, a couple of lemons, some avocados, carrots, and an eggplant from the produce vendors. Then I went to the poultry stand for some more chicken sausages, both with herbs and with merguez spices. Finally, a butcher had some nice looking garlic sausages, smoked and not smoked, so I got one of each. It's grilling season!

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Back to summer

Friday was a lost day for outdoor work. It didn't rain much, but just enough to dampen (pun intended) any interest in cutting grass or otherwise working outside. And it was breezy and chilly. But today the clouds are gone and the temperature should be warming back up. That's the forecast, anyway.

The artichokes are flowering now.

So, I'm planning a market run this morning. The big poultry vendor has summer sausages called chipolatas and merguez made of poultry (rather than pork and lamb, respectively) that are good for grilling. Then I'll see what kind of tasty veggies I can find. Later this morning I want to mow the south 40. After that: lunch!

Friday, July 10, 2020

Sunny day

When the sun is out and it's a hot day, I put the umbrella out on the deck. It shades the table and keeps a good section of the deck tiles from getting hot. This photo is from Thursday at about noon. The thermometer on the table shows 25.5ºC (about 78ºF). It got warmer as the afternoon progressed.

The deck gets fully shaded a few hours after noon. The umbrella helps at mid-day.

After lunch, I was sitting on the deck enjoying a glass of red when one our neighbors showed up at the gate. She lives in the Paris region and had just arrived at her vacation home in our hamlet. We hadn't seen her since last year. She asked if we had power. Yes, I said, no problems. She obviously didn't have power. I gave her two phone numbers that I had for the electric company's emergency service. Then it occurred to me that she might not even have the same electricity provider that we have (the national electric company maintains the physical network while customers can buy power from a variety of providers). After that, I wondered if she had checked her breaker panel, so I walked over and asked. She invited me in to have a look and, sure enough, the main breaker had tripped. I flipped it back on et voilà, she had juice. "Now," she said after thanking me profusely, "I can get out the vacuum and clean up all the spider webs in the house!"

Thursday, July 09, 2020

Cinnabar moth

I think this is the larvae of the cinnabar moth, called la goutte-de-sang (drop of blood) in French. The names describe the markings on the wings of the adult moth, not the caterpillar. According to my extensive quick and dirty research, they like to lay eggs on ragwort, a very common plant in and around the vineyards and other fields nearby. I'm pretty sure this one was on a ragwort plant when I saw it.

Not hard to miss this one. He (or she) is wearing my high school colors: orange and black.

Our vegetable garden is starting to produce. I harvested the first zucchini yesterday. There are two more to pick today. And so it begins. We're a long way from tomatoes, still. And the beans are just starting to make blossoms. Everything else is growing along.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Black tomato pizza

Some of my readers asked to see the inside of the tomates noires (black tomatoes) that I brought home from the market last weekend. On Tuesday, we made pizzas with one of them, so here it is. The tomato's skin has dark shades of red and green, but it looks like a regular red tomato on the inside.

The black tomato, revealed.

I sliced the tomato and arranged it on the pizza dough, then added lardons fumés (smoked bacon), chopped bell peppers, sliced mushrooms, and some brebis (sheeps' cheese) from Basque country. The pizzas were delicious!

One of our two fresh tomato and bacon pizzas from Tuesaday's lunch.

Today I plan to use the other black tomato in a three-grain salad made with couscous (not a grain, but it's made from wheat), quinoa, and bulgur, chopped zucchini (the first one from this year's garden), chopped cucumber, corn, cubes of mozzarella cheese, and some chopped mint.

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Radis roses

Pink radishes are common in France this time of year. They're a favorite at apértif time, served raw with sweet butter, salt, and fresh bread. The oblong radishes are sold in bottes (bunches) with their fanes (leaves) and we've been enjoying one bunch a week for the past couple of months. They're crisp and crunchy and sweet, very different from the sharp taste of the round red radishes I remember from the US.

Radis roses, trimmed (roots and leaves) and soaking (to dislodge any stubborn dirt). And yes, we eat the green part, too.

By the way, the round red radishes are available here more and more. And I saw one vendor at the Saturday market in Saint-Aignan who offers radishes of many colors, something I've not seen before. Maybe I should give them a try.

I grew radishes in our vegetable garden for a couple of years, but the slugs really like them. That, and the fact that they have to be sewn successively to have a steady crop, make buying them in the market much more practical.

Monday, July 06, 2020


Our local Saturday market in Saint-Aignan has at least five produce vendors that I can think of. All of them have a nice variety of good-looking vegetables and fruits to offer. One of them is a local organic grower (and their prices reflect that). The others are vendors, likely buying their produce wholesale and reselling it at markets around the region.

Gorgeous and tasty tomatoes.

Even though it's not tomato season, the toms at the market are beautiful. They're probably grown in ideal and protected conditions, but they're still good. Nice and ripe and full of flavor. This past Saturday, I got a huge yellow tomato and two good sized "black" tomatoes. We ate the yellow tomato in a Caprese salad on Sunday. We haven't cut into the black toms yet but will soon, maybe for a tabbouleh-style salad, maybe on a pizza.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Lotsa grapes

The grape crop looks plentiful this year. Must have been the warm, wet spring we had. It makes me think that the growers might do un vendange en vert (green harvest) as the grapes start to mature. If there are too many grapes on the vines, there is not enough energy in the plant to allow them all to mature they way the grower intends, so some of the grapes are removed from the vine. The remaining grapes can then develop the appropriate levels of sugar and water to make a good wine.

Looking good! These leaves look like this could be gamay, a red wine grape common in our area.

In certain appellations, the grape yield is regulated. If there are too many grapes per hectare (a measure of land area equivalent to 10,000 m2 or about 2.5 acres), some of them must go. Grape growing is almost, if not more, as complicated as wine making!

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Amber waves of grain

It's the Fourth of July, the national holiday of the USA. It sounds from the news reports that many celebrations are cancelled and that others will be more subdued than usual. But I'm sure there will be plenty of people willing to risk their own and others' health to party like it's any other year. Sigh.

The tall grasses in and around the vineyard are pretty, but they make walking difficult. They're often wet with dew and they're great places to pick up ticks.

France will face the same issue in ten days. I believe the government has scaled back the national event on the Champs-Elysées. But I'm sure there will be individuals and groups that will flout the recommendations for protection and prevention. It's human nature, I guess. I'm sure the health professionals are nervous about another opportunity for the virus to spread.

We'll be laying low, as usual.

Friday, July 03, 2020


That's how I jokingly refer to this plant, dipladenia, because I couldn't remember its name. I think it's more commonly known as mandevilla, from what I read on the internet. I first saw the bright red flowers of dipladenia across the road at our neighbor's house a couple of years ago. We went over and found the plant's label in one of the pots. The next year, I got some for our deck planters from one of the local garden centers.

Dipladenia in the real fake well, surrounded by clary sage which is now going to seed.

Last fall, we dug them out of their planter boxes and put them in pots in the greenhouse where they spent the winter. They survived, but didn't look so good. We set them outdoors in May and they started to produce more leaves and then flowers. I decided to plant them in the well once the volunteer wheat crop was gone. That happened this week and the photo above shows the result. I'm hopeful that the plants will get stronger and fuller as the summer goes on. The red flowers are quite vibrant.

In case you don't know, "diplodocus" was a dinosaur similar in appearance to the brontosaurus.

Thursday, July 02, 2020

Don't sit under the apple tree

Until I get the apples picked up. It took me two days to prune off the low-hanging branches of our two apple trees. Now I need to gather up the apples that came off those branches as they hit the ground. Then I'll be able to run the mower under the trees again without being slapped in the face.

The drooping low branches of both trees are gone now.

I do this every year, but this year the trees have more fruit than I've seen in a while and it's really weighing down the branches. Like I said yesterday, it may be time (this winter) to have the trees professionally pruned back again. It's too big a job for me because it involves ladder work and chain saws.

Most of the apples on the cut branches fell off when they hit the ground. Clean-up time!

I piled all the cut branches out in a section of the yard where they're out of the way. I'll dispose of them later in the fall when it's time to clean up the vegetable garden. The apples will go into the compost pile.

Wednesday, July 01, 2020

The wavin' wheat can sure smell sweet

Here's my wheat harvest from what grew in the real fake well this spring. You may recall that the wheat sprouted in the well from bird seed. I hang the feeder above the well in winter and some of the birds like to push the seeds out then eat them on the ground. Obviously, they don't eat them all.

My wheat crop makes a nice centerpiece for the deck table.

There seems to be more than just one type of grain here and I don't know what they are, so I'm just calling it all "wheat." From what I understand, much of what's grown by farmers around here is "winter wheat," sown in the fall and harvested in the following summer (about now). After I "harvested" my wheat, I pulled out the roots and planted the dipladenia in its place. I'll try to get a photo of that soon.