Saturday, October 31, 2020

A mild weekend

We're having a relatively warm and dry weekend. I took advantage of it on Friday morning to rip the tomato plants out of the ground and put away their stakes. Ken picked the last few tomatoes for guacamole, part of Friday's lunch. I saved some stray green ones to see if they'll ripen on the deck. I still want to cut the grass, but that will depend on how much dew we get. This morning looks a little foggy out there.

This photo is almost a week old. The leaves are falling to the ground now.

So here we are at the end of October. Halloween. And how cool is it that there's a full moon on Halloween? Next week is going to be stressful all around for us Americans. I'm thankful that I'm not there for all the campaigning, advertising, and news coverage. Because of the time difference, we won't be hearing any election results until early Wednesday morning.

Friday, October 30, 2020

Heading south

I'm not sure what kind of birds these are. Possibly ducks? They flew over silently, except for the muffled sound of beating wings. They were heading in a southwesterly direction across the vineyards.

Not a perfect "V" formation, but close enough.

I got my haircut yesterday. The stylist was a little subdued and seemed worried about what will happen to her business under our new confinement rule. She was required to close her shop at midnight last night and can't re-open for at least four weeks. She told me that she had appointments up until eleven. It was going to be a long day for her.

I went to the grocery store afterward. The parking lot was full, but I grabbed a cart and went in anyway. The lines at the checkout stands extended back into the grocery aisles. I continued. I picked up the few things we wanted and went through the self-checkout. I was third in line and it went pretty quickly. The confinement rule went into effect at midnight, but food shopping is still allowed, so I don't think there was much panic buying going on. This weekend is a big holiday weekend (All Saints Day) and I suspect people were just shopping for that. And the traffic headed to the zoo was backed up for several kilometers.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Savory pumpkin cake

Here's one of the ways we used pumpkin this week. It's a savory pumpkin cake, the recipe for which Ken found on the internet. The cake is made with roasted pumpkin, of course, flour, eggs, smoked lardons (like American bacon), grated cheese, and pecans for crunch. Baking powder helps the cake to lighten and rise. It's a very moist cake, and delicious as an appetizer or a snack.

A slice of savory pumpkin cake.

The president spoke last night and, if I understood correctly, France is going back into a modified lockdown starting on Friday and lasting until the first of December. I won't go into the details here, but like last spring, we will be restricted from unnecessary travel, even around town. Ken got his hair cut yesterday, and I have an appointment this morning, just under the wire. I'm assuming the hair salon will close during the lockdown. Ken did a big supermarket run yesterday, stocking up on some essentials. Since we're more or less homebodies anyway, the restrictions shouldn't be much of a hardship for us.

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

October sunrise

This was Monday morning's sunrise over the vineyards. Big clouds dominated the sky, but the sun had several openings and painted the cloud tops orange and pink. Since it wasn't raining, Tasha and I went all the way to the end of the dirt road and enjoyed the views.

Looking west at sunrise.

We cut into the big ripe muscade pumpkin on Tuesday. I roasted half of it and we're using the other half in various ways. Some of the roasted flesh went into a savory pumpkin cake. Some of it went into a big batch of spicy enchilada sauce for the freezer. Ken used some unroasted chunks of pumpkin to make a couscous which we've enjoyed for two days now. Today I'm making pizza with pumpkin sauce.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Tasha Tuesday

Just before I took this, Tasha took a big drink from the puddle you can see behind her. She has been delighting in drinking from the puddles in the vineyard road since the rains came. There were none for most of the summer. I suspect that puddle water tastes much better than the stuff she gets in her bowl. I can't confirm that, as I do not partake.

Maybe we should bottle the puddle water and sell it.

Today is the day that Tasha gets her monthly flea and tick preventative. It's a chewable tablet, flavored so that dogs will like it. Tasha hates it. She won't eat it unless I wrap it in rillettes (potted pork, a French staple). So each month I take a spoonful of rillettes and cover the medicine with it. She inhales it without chewing. So, to paraphrase Julie Andrews, just a spoonful of rillettes helps the medicine go down.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Let's stick with Friday

Sunday was, as predicted, a washout with rain most of the day. So here's another photo from Friday afternoon's sun-drenched walk. The golden grape leaves are stunning right now. But they're starting to turn brown and drop to the ground. I think we've passed the "peak."

The view of the vineyards just outside our back gate.

I'm hoping for some more nice days over the next few weeks so I can continue cleaning up the garden and yard for winter. Keep your fingers crossed!

Sunday, October 25, 2020

A fungus among us

Over the past few days, I've noticed some mushrooms growing in and on the stump of the big apple tree that fell last fall. As you can see, the trunk was mostly hollow and could no longer support the tree's weight. Down it came. Our recent rains have given all manner of fungus what they need to pop up all around, in our lawn, in the woods and, well, everywhere.

Mushrooms help to decompose the old apple tree stump.

These mushrooms were prettier when they were a little smaller, but they're still impressive. Naturally, we won't be eating them. I don't know what they are. I looked through our mushroom identification book without making a solid match. Even if I had identified them, and even if they are supposed to be edible, I still would not eat them. There's too much room for error.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Autumn afternoon

The sun and clouds took turns on Friday afternoon. It was almost too bright to take pictures at times. I'm not good at bright light photos, preferring overcast days or the famed "golden hours" at sunrise and sunset (which are, coincidentally, when I normally walk with Tasha). I was out a little early on Friday afternoon and it felt good to walk in the waning warmth of the autumn sun.

I took the camera out because I think the vineyard color is near its peak right now.

This morning we woke up to no power. No light. No heat. After finding the flashlights and checking the breaker box, we determined that a circuit that shorted out back in early February had done it again, tripping the main. Once I turned that circuit's breaker off, the rest came back on. Fortunately, that circuit doesn't power anything critical for daily living, so we'll wait until next week to call the electrician.

Friday, October 23, 2020

A nice day

The weather was pleasant on Thursday. Lots of sun and very mild temperatures. I cooked a steak on the grill outside for lunch.

An oak leaf on the dirt road.

As evening came, so did the clouds. And rain. At one point, Ken asked me if that was lightning that he saw out the window. Before I could answer (I didn't see any), a huge thunder clap shook the house. It was close. Then the rain came. There was a little more thunder, rumbling in the distance, but not much. It rained heavily for a while, then things calmed down, but it rained off and on through the night, as far as I could tell.

Now things are predicted to get more seasonal, meaning lower temperatures.

Thursday, October 22, 2020

These ain't grapes

When you see them in person, it's obvious. The berries are much smaller than grapes. The bunches point up instead of down. And the leaves on the shrub are nothing like grape leaves. I've posted about these in the past, and I think they're called troène commun (wild privet), but I'm not certain.

Pretty berries. But don't eat them! They're toxic to humans.

These grow on the edge of an abandoned vineyard parcel, among the neglected grapes, wild roses and blackberries, and other shrubs and small trees. I haven't seen them anywhere else.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Pumpkin harvest

I picked the three remaining muscade pumpkins in the vegetable garden on Tuesday. I was surprised at how big and perfectly formed they are. They're ripe, although they still have their green color. I can tell because they sound hollow when thumped, and the stems are woody. A few weeks in the cellar will help them to fully mature and get their tan/orange color. I picked the pumpkin in the second photo back in early September, so it's been ripening in the cellar for six or seven weeks.

Three muscade pumpkins freshly cut from the vine. Our friend selected the one on the lower right.

Back then, I gave one of the rouge vif d'Etampes pumpkins to a friend. When she read on the blog that we had more, she asked if she could have one of the muscades, so she came over yesterday to pick one out. I'm happy to give them away, especially one of these three because I wasn't expecting them to grow. They're bonus pumpkins!

The same variety after having matured in the cellar for six weeks.

So now we have to decide what to do with them. Ken spent a good hour yesterday researching pumpkin recipes, especially savory ones. We will certainly make pumpkin bread (which is really a cake) and pumpkin pie, but we also flagged recipes for fritters, savory cake, pumpkin soup, sauce for pizza and enchiladas, and curried pumpkin. I'm hoping that the two green pumpkins will ripen over the next month or so in the cellar, giving us time to use them later in the year. I can always roast and freeze them, but I already have a freezer full. We'll be eating this year's crop for quite some time to come.

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Tasha Tuesday

Looking toward home. She was probably waiting for me while I took the photo. She's used to us stopping to take pictures when we walk. Normally she takes the opportunity to sniff around, but on this day something further down the road caught her attention. It turned out that it was Bert.

Tasha is sure she saw something over there.

Yesterday Ken and I accomplished a significant task. We got our old (25 years) mattress down from the loft and into the garage. It had been sitting on the floor for a few weeks since we got the new mattress. It was quite a job. I frankly don't know how we managed to get the darned thing up there to begin with. It's an American king-size mattress. Big and heavy and not very flexible. It was ten years ago that the loft was finished; we were both ten years younger.

First, we had to clear the way. We moved furniture, took all pictures off the walls, moved lamps and plants and anything else that could get knocked over along the way. Halfway down the staircase from the loft, the unwieldy mattress got wedged in the turn. The stairs were blocked. Ken and Tasha were stuck in the loft and I was stuck on the main floor. After much huffing and puffing and a little swearing, we managed to lift it out of its stuck position and guide it down. Thankfully, gravity was on our side. The second stair from the main floor to the ground floor is wider and was much easier to negotiate. Then it was out the front door and across the driveway into the garage. The whole thing wore us out. After, we realized we should have taken photos of the mattress wedged in the staircase, just for the memory. Oh well.

The mattress will sit in the garage until our refuse company reinstates their annual pickup of objets encombrants (oversize and difficult items) which they suspended when covid hit.

Monday, October 19, 2020

It's funny what you find

I saw this in the dirt road that runs through the vineyards out back. A cork. In a vineyard. Imagine that. I'd expect to see a cork at a winery, but not out among the vines. Someone must have had a good time.

Maybe I'll go back out and look for it and see what, exactly, it says.

I'm not at all sure what the cork says. I didn't pick it up to examine it. Silly me. The word that's visible seems to be comtés which means county or other administrative region. An extensive quick and dirty internet search turned up a category of wines called les comtés-rhodaniens, a collection of vins de pays from the central Rhône Valley. That's quite a hike from here.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Up a tree

Le lierre, common ivy, is, in fact, quite common around us. We have a lot of it. It grows on the ground in our yard's shady spots as a ground cover. I don't know if it was planted there intentionally or if it just got there naturally. It also climbs up tree trunks and walls. Every year we go around cutting and pulling it off of trees and walls, but we never get it all.

Common ivy climbing a tree.

It's also common in the wild, covering trees on the edges of the vineyard parcels around us. I read that common ivy is not a parasite and that it doesn't damage its host trees, except in cases where an already old or weak tree is so laden with ivy that its weight topples the tree. Seeing ivy cover a dead or dying tree certainly gives the impression that the ivy is the culprit, but apparently it's not normally the cause of a tree's demise.

Saturday, October 17, 2020


Here are more of the grapes in that abandoned vineyard parcel out back. They're pretty much the only grapes left out there since the harvest. Because the vines are overgrown and untended, the bunches aren't as full as they should be, and the grapes themselves are small. Still, they make for pretty photos.

Food for the wildlife. They sure are pretty, but not very useful.

I picked what I think will be the last of the tomatoes for this year. Just a small number, but we'll use them for something. Now it's time to think about pulling the plants out. I use little plastic fasteners to tie the vines to their stakes. Each one has to come off to be saved for next year. I've been reusing these fasteners for several years. They go on easy, but taking them off is not as easy. Once that's done, I'll pull up the stakes and uproot the plants. They won't go into the compost pile; I don't want any rot, fungus, or other tomato maladies to contaminate the compost.

I noticed yesterday that there are three muscade pumpkins on the vine out there. I have no idea what I'll do with them. The freezer is already full of roasted pumpkin, and I have another rather large pumpkin in the cellar (pumpkin soup?). All from only two plants, not to mention the two rather large pumpkins I gave away. I don't think there will be pumpkins in next year's garden.

Friday, October 16, 2020

Hedge fun

Once again, the hedges are trimmed for the year. The landscaping crew came on Monday morning and did their magic. They have the right tools for the job and the expertise, both of which I lacked during those years when I trimmed the hedge myself.

A section of the freshly trimmed hedge with the golden leaves of the autumn vineyard in the background.

Back then, it was an adventure to tackle these things myself. We also were living off savings (before our retirement pensions started up) and the value of the dollar was sinking like a rock, so spending money on hedge trimming was not a priority. And I was younger.

These days, the guys take less than a day to do the job that took me two to three weeks to complete. And the French government recently began to subsidize the cost because we are employing people for regular routine maintenance (new construction is not subsidized). I'm thankful for all of that because I came not to like teetering on my ladder and injuring my back while reaching to trim thick hedges.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

Red leaves

More and more grape leaves are showing their colors. Most of the leaves out back turn yellow and gold. But some parcels have a lot of red in them. I'd guess the yellow and gold leaves belong mostly to sauvignon (blanc) vines. But the distribution of red and yellow doesn't necessarily match how the red and white grapes are distributed among the vineyard parcels. So, I'm at a loss.

Raindrops on grape leaves.

France announced a curfew last night aimed at limiting the spread of the corona virus. It will be implemented in many of the larger metropolitan areas this weekend. The curfew doesn't really affect our region, but it gives one pause. We are as careful as we can be, wearing our masks when out and about (they're obligatory in supermarkets and other stores) and using disinfectant gel after each venture into a store, pharmacy, or doctor's office, and then washing them well once home. I even gel my hands after taking the recycling to the collection point. The recycle collection bins are outdoors and there are no people to interact with, but my hands do touch the bins a little when I put stuff in. You can't be too careful.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The green green grass of fall

The heat of summer is gone, and it's been raining. Résultat : the grass is green again. This is a vineyard parcel that hasn't been mowed recently and it demonstrates how green the spaces between grape vine rows can get. Especially this time of year and through the winter. I'll see whether or not the growers mow again before they start the vine pruning.

These vines were hand-harvested so they weren't trimmed back to make room for the mechanical harvesters.

In our back yard, the green has also come back to the grasses and small plants that make up our "lawn." The next time we have a few dry days, I'll get the lawnmower back out for one last cut. The landscaping crew made quick work of trimming our hedges on Monday. And I approved the estimate for the other work (tree and shrub removal and renovation of the garden pathway). That work could start as early as late December.

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Le fusain

This is the fruit of the fusain d'Europe (common spindle). I see them here and there on the edges of the vineyard parcels, but usually only recognize them this time of year when they make these little red berries. When the berry matures, it opens to reveal several bright orange seeds.

It looks like a tiny pink pumpkin.

The fusain is toxic to humans, but Wikipedia tells me that certain varieties are carbonized in an airtight environment to make charcoal pencils for artists. Those pencils are called fusains in French. Click here to see two other photos of the berries that I posted back in 2012 and 2013.

Monday, October 12, 2020


Grape growers around us continue to move away from herbicides to control weeds in the vineyards. One method I see is mowing between rows. Another method, seen here in the foreground and on the left in the background, is to plow the soil between the vines. At least one grower out there mowed this past summer, then plowed just after the harvest. I'm all for abandoning herbicides for more ecological weed control, but I'll admit that plowing makes walking between the rows a little more difficult. No matter, there are plenty of other paths for us.

The ground in the parcel in front has been plowed, as has the parcel in back on the left.

The landscaping crew is scheduled to come today for our annual hedge trimming. I also got an estimate from the guy who owns the company for renovating our garden path, removing (another) dead tree, pulling out a row of dead hazelnut trees, and eliminating a wildly overgrown and unruly juniper. Many trees around us have been dying lately. The landscaper says that the hot, dry summers of recent years have taken their toll, stressing trees, especially those up here on the heights which are farther from the sinking water table. I have a few questions for him, and some adjustments I'd like him to make to the estimate, but am otherwise inclined to give him the OK. He'll probably schedule the work for some time in the winter or early spring.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Dipladenia vs. diplodocus

I jokingly refer to our dipladenia (mandevilla) plants as "diplodocus" because at first I could not remember their name. So, just for the record, here are images of both so as not to confuse you. First off, you can find dipladenia in our back yard (even though it's native to the Americas).

Dipladenia in the real fake well.

You probably won't see diplodocus in our back yard. They lived in North America at the end of the Jurassic period, between 200 and 145 million years ago.

Diplodocus, an illustration.

I saw the moon rise last night, a thick crescent pointing up, its color a haunting orange. I also did battle with a mosquito after it bit me. I won.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

Funky feline fotos

It's been a while. Bert is well, although we did have an episode of him throwing up something in the house and a few episodes of poop indoors (he won't use his litter box). He is fourteen years old after all, so I expect some "senior" moments from time to time.

I caught Bert stalking some critter in the grass out by the pond on Thursday morning.

Since Callie died, Bert has been able to spend more time indoors. He gets along well with Tasha, so there is no longer a dog/cat conflict. Last year we noticed that, because we normally leave Bert's access to the outdoors open 24 hours a day, neighborhood cats were coming into the house and eating his kibble. There were even a few late night rumbles in the garage when Bert caught another cat in his territory.

Since then, I've been closing his window at night, locking him indoors until morning. That solves the neighborhood cat problem, but Bert was used to going in and out when he pleased, or when he needed to. So that might explain the poop episodes. I'm trying to get him used to going out and coming back in before I close the window, with mixed results. Sometimes it works, other times he goes out and stays out until the wee hours, and still other times he doesn't go out at all.

Over all, however, things are fine. He eats more or less normally and hunts successfully. His last vet visit this past summer was positive; the vet said he was in fine form.

Friday, October 09, 2020

Thursday was pizza day

Another successful pair of pizzas, if I do say so myself. I topped these with fresh tomatoes (from the garden!), smoked chicken breast, bell peppers, corn, and grated comté cheese. We drank a red côtes-du-rhône along side.

Another tasty lunch.


The dough worked well, although it didn't show any signs of rising for the first hour or so, which made me a little anxious. But by the end of about four hours, the yeast had done its thing and the dough was ready to go. I formed the discs by hand again, and I like the result better than when I roll the dough with a pin; I think that squeezes out too much air. I have not attempted to toss the dough discs into the air. I'll leave that to the professionals.

Thursday, October 08, 2020

Here comes the brown

In another month or so, the vineyards and the woods around us will lose a lot of their color. The conifers will stay green, of course, and so will the grasses. Deciduous trees will drop their leaves. The grape vines will go brown above a carpet of green. And then the pruning will begin.

Most of summer's wildflowers have long gone to seed and turned brown.

Last Sunday there were, indeed, a couple of hunters out back. They were far enough away that I didn't see who they were. I'm wondering if one of the regulars of years past has hung up his shotgun. I haven't seen his truck parked out by the vineyard cabin where he usually starts out on Sunday mornings. He used to do garden work for a couple of our neighbors, but stopped that work several years back. No one's getting any younger.

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Vegetable garden update

Although we haven't been doing much in the vegetable garden lately (due to rain), stuff is still happening. We're actually getting tomatoes. Not a lot, but enough to eat and still preserve some. I'm convinced that the calcium treatment I applied back at the end of August saved what was left of the crop. I only wish I had done it earlier. But now I know what to do next year.

The tarp covers a pile of yard waste to keep it dry. I don't want it to rot before I can dispose of it.

The muscade pumpkin plant has three more pumpkins on it. I don't have the heart to rip it out, but we have enough pumpkin flesh in the freezer to feed us for a long time. And the red chard is doing well. Soon enough it will be time to rip out the tomato plants and the pumpkin, too, and prepare the ground for winter. I still have that big pile of mulch sitting where it was dumped. I'll move as much of that as I can onto the garden plot.

Tuesday, October 06, 2020


These roses belong to one of our neighbors. They looked like this a few days ago before the rain moved in and knocked off many of the flower petals. In our climate, and if conditions are right, some roses will bloom into December.

Pink roses on a neighbor's fence.

In less than three weeks we will move our clocks back to standard time. It could be the last time. Europe is expected to eliminate the annual time change in 2021, and France has chosen to keep Summer Time permanent when that happens. I'm all for that. We will still have to turn the clocks forward again next spring, but maybe never more.

Monday, October 05, 2020

Dark skies

We're in a dark and damp pattern now, although the sun did peek out a little yesterday afternoon. This morning I heard the familiar pitter-patter of raindrops on the loft windows. And it's still quite breezy. My walks with Tasha have been cut short by rain showers over the past few days.

Threatening skies and puddles in the road.

All this means that not much is getting done outdoors. I'm sure, though, that we'll have plenty of opportunities to work outside in the weeks to come. Meanwhile, there's plenty to do indoors. Not that I'm doing an awful lot. Ha.

Sunday, October 04, 2020

Windy and wet

The wind kicked up late yesterday afternoon and into the night. It's not too bad, but I could definitely hear it gusting out there. There was also rain off and on during the dark hours. Today is a hunting day, so I need to get out with Tasha before 09h00. Last Sunday was the first hunt day of the season, but no hunters showed up out back. I'll see what happens today. The weather usually doesn't deter them unless it's very bad.

Fall is creeping through the vineyards.

Yesterday afternoon Tasha and I were walking entre les gouttes as they say (between the raindrops) and we saw a pair of pheasants (probably a mating pair) scoot along our path and into the cover of the grape vines. Pheasants generally like to run on the ground unless it's necessary to fly to escape a threat. And that often leads to their demise.

Saturday, October 03, 2020

An autumn leaf

More and more leaves are turning color and falling to the ground. It's pretty but, when I see them on the ground, I think about having to rake them up. I don't rake the leaves that fall on the grass. They get mulched by the mower. But I do rake up leaves that fall on the gravel driveway and garden path. I put them either in the compost or directly on the vegetable garden plot over the winter.

A yellow leaf among the green.

We're still expecting a wet weekend. Tasha and I walked in a light rain on Friday morning. I think gentle rain with no wind is pleasant and I don't mind being out in it. Except that Tasha's coat gets wet, so she needs a good rub down with towels when we get home. Good thing she likes it.

Friday, October 02, 2020

Linguini with white clam sauce

This is one of my favorite dishes. I still remember one version that I had in Half Moon Bay, California, in early 2003. And another that we made while vacationing on the Ile d'Oléron in 2008. The fishermen were on strike, so there was no fish in the markets. But there was shellfish and we bought some clam-like critters called lavagnons locally, and they were really good in this dish. The fish monger in Saint-Aignan (who has since retired) often had lavagnons, but she also had coques (cockles) at a better price, so I started buying them. And they're excellent.

One kilogram of cockles.

Yesterday I drove over to the weekly Thursday market in Selles-sur-Cher (about twenty minutes away) because a friend told me that one of the fish mongers there usually had coques available, and sure enough, she did. And for an even better price that I was used to paying in Saint-Aignan. Score!

Garnished with parsley and ready to serve!

So we made the recipe, which is quite easy. First, Ken made a batch of fake sea water (30g of salt for 1 liter of water) for the bivalves to rest in. We added about a tablespoon of finely ground cornmeal and let the coques purge themselves of sand for an hour or so. In the meantime, Ken chopped a shallot and some garlic, then sweated that on low heat in some olive oil. Next, we drained the coques and rinsed them, added them to the pan with some white wine, and let it steam, covered, until the shells opened. When they were done, we added the cooked linguini and some chopped parsley and served it with plenty of freshly ground black pepper. Yum!

Thursday, October 01, 2020

Left behind

This is part of that abandoned vineyard parcel out toward the end of the dirt road through the vineyards out back. There are a lot of grapes out there this year, but because the vines aren't pruned and otherwise tended, the grapes themselves are tiny. The parcel has been abandoned since before we moved here over seventeen years ago. Shrubs and trees have grown up among the old vines.

These grapes end up being food for the wildlife.

I woke up to rain this morning. It's a pretty steady, but moderate, system. No wind. I was planning to drive over to a neighboring town which has its market on Thursday mornings, but that will depend on how long the rain lasts. I want to get some coques (cockles) to make linguini with clam sauce, but I can wait another week if the weather doesn't cooperate today. Going to an outdoor market in the rain is not much fun.