Wednesday, April 14, 2021

No more nuts

For lack of new photos, you get another view of the back yard. Beyond the garden path is the section that I call the west forty. It's the largest section of the property, home to the (remaining two) apple trees, the garden shed, and the vegetable garden. There's a row of hazelnuts along the north edge that have died. They will be taken out soon.

Looking north. Vegetable garden on the left. The dead hazelnuts stretch from there to just right of the apple trees in this photo.

The hazelnuts never really worked. They were tall trees when we moved in and they produced a decent crop of nuts, but the nuts were ruined by boring beetles each year. Rather than take extraordinary measures to protect the crop, I had the trees cut into a hedge shape in 2012. Here's what they looked like the following year (and most years since). Now fully half of them are dead, so out they'll go.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Tasha Tuesday

Sort of. Maybe I should call this a Trio of Trees. You can barely see Tasha standing in the garden path. The three trees are, from left to right, an apple, a tilleul (linden or lime), and a fir (overgrown former Christmas tree). We're still working on the cleaning up from winter. There are piles of sticks and branches in the path waiting to either be stacked for kindling or ground up by the landscaper. I got half of the north forty cut on Monday. The other half has to be cleared of the birch branches that fell in the December wind storm.

The biggest artichoke is visible along the path on the right. I cut down the scraggly old sage plants that grew between it and where Tasha is standing. To the right of the artichoke is a little clump of green that are peonies.

And there's all manner of plants and pots that need to be sorted through and dealt with. And the green house needs to be reorganized for summer. My tomato seeds have sprouted and I just planted some summer squash seeds. Soon it will be time to till up the vegetable garden plot and get it ready to receive seedlings. In the middle of all this, I fully expect our contractors to show up, at the same time, to work in the yard and on the deck. That's usually how things happen around here. Stay tuned.

Monday, April 12, 2021

Rainy days and Sundays

Sunday was a wet day. We had rain through the night and on into Sunday. We need the rain, I think. It hasn't rained in a while. I took this photo from the den out over the west forty. The garden path separates the west forty from the south forty. That's the way I think of it, anyway. Our property slopes down toward the north. When we bought the house eighteen years ago, looking at it with our San Francisco eyes, the yard seemed absolutely flat.

Apple trees on the right. The big tree in the middle is a tilleul (linden). The vegetable garden is on the right, behind the two apple trees.
Behind the tilleul and to the left is the Christmas tree that blocks a lot of the view. Its days are numbered.

The current project is to re-do the garden path. That's why it looks a bit messy. We're waiting for the contractor to schedule us.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Looking the other way

Here's another look at our flowering prunus tree from the other side, looking east toward the house. The big forsythia is on the left.

Where's Tasha? Can you find her in the photo?

We're heading into the second week of our new confinement (lockdown). It's not really affecting us much. We're used to being more or less homebodies, just venturing out for food and wine. We're lucky to have the vineyards out back to walk in with Tasha. I'm thinking I'll go to the Saint-Aignan Saturday market next weekend to see if the vendors have asparagus. It's been chilly, so the crop may be late this year.

We're working on emptying our old chest freezer so we can retire it before it breaks down. We're finding several UFOs (Unidentified Frozen Objects) in the bottom. We thaw them out and try to figure out what they are. A few days ago we found some vegetable soup that we made in 2014. It was fine and we ate it up. I also found a bag of blueberries that I picked back in 2015. I made a blueberry cake with some of them yesterday. I'm hopeful that we can empty the freezer by June. Then we'll use it for a storage bin in the garage until we can get rid of it. Our "new" freezer is an upright with drawers. Much easier to deal with, more difficult to lose things in the bottom.

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Ornamental plum

This is an ornamental (flowering, no fruit) variety of prunus. I don't know which; it was here when we moved in. It produces these pink flowers every spring. The tree is healthy, but it needs to be pruned, especially a couple of branches on the bottom where I bump my head when I mow under it.

You can see a branch of the tall Christmas tree on the upper right. Just behind the prunus are the two forsythia shrubs. The short, round shrub on the left will be covered in purple flowers later this spring, and the taller shrub behind it is a white-flowered deutzia.

My only complaint about the tree is that we can't see it from the house. There's a huge fir tree blocking the view. It was a live Christmas tree that the previous owner planted when her granddaughter was small. Originally there were two Christmas trees. We had one of them removed (it was sickly) the first year we lived here. The second one has probably doubled in height since then. I'd like to have it removed, too, but we're busy dealing with the dead and dying trees around the property. Since this one is relatively healthy, its removal is not a priority.

Thankfully, I can get decent shots of the prunus from other angles.

Friday, April 09, 2021

It's almost time

The lilac bush outside the southwestern corner of our house is getting ready to bloom. While there are some blooms every year, the variety is one that flowers every other year. This is a flowering year. I'll take more photos as the flowers open up.

Lots of flowers this year. They're on the verge of opening.

The lilac is competing with the ornamental prunus farther back in the yard. Its purple blossoms are pretty much open now and it looks nice. I didn't think to take a photo yesterday while the sun was shining. I'll try to get one today. It's overcast.

I got a big section of the lawn cut yesterday, the west forty. I plan to cut the south forty today, along with the strips outside the hedges. It'll depend on how soon the predicted rain starts. The north forty is still a mess, littered with the branches of the birch tree that fell in December. So the primroses are getting a reprieve for the time being.

Thursday, April 08, 2021


While researching recipes that use chick peas (garbanzo beans) last week, I came upon one for roasting them as a snack. We had some dried chick peas in the pantry for a while and decided it was time to use them. Ken cooked them, and there were quite a few; more than we needed for the North African chakchouka he made just over a week ago.

Four flavors of toasted chick peas. A tasty snack!

The recipe is simple: rinse and dry the chick peas (the recipe calls for canned garbanzos), coat them lightly with olive oil, and put them in a single layer on a lined baking sheet in a hot oven until they're crispy. It took about ten minutes in a 220ºC (about 425ºF) convection oven. Once they cooled a little, I separated them into four bowls for different seasonings. I flavored the first bowl with just salt, the other three bowls got salt and hot smoked paprika, ground fenugreek, or ground cumin. They were really good and we ate half of them the first day. The roasted garbanzos get soft rather quickly, so on the second day I combined all the flavors and crisped them up in the toaster oven before we finished them.

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

Easter lunch: dessert

You might remember that, last summer, a nearby friend invited me to come pick figs from her very productive fig tree. Fresh, ripe figs are delicious and we ate a lot of them various ways. But we couldn't eat all  I picked before they went bad, so I trimmed the stems and froze them whole for later.

Amandine de figues, baked and ready to serve.

While a batch of figs thawed, I made and blind-baked a pâte brisée (short crust) and assembled the ingredients for an amandine filling, namely ground almonds, all-purpose flour, butter, sugar, and eggs. I spread the filling into the crust, pressed the whole figs into it, and baked it for about thirty minutes.

The mise en place, gathering the ingredients. I blind-baked the crust using parchment paper and ceramic pie weights.

I often cut the amount of sugar that a recipe calls for in half. This tart was no exception. I find that most things don't need to be that sweet and, without the full amount of sugar, the taste of the fruit is front and center and not masked by too much sweetness. The tart was delicious and we had dessert for three days!

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Easter lunch: the main course

Our plat principal (main course) on Sunday was rabbit. It's a dish called lapin en gibelotte, a kind of fricasee or stew made simply with smoky bacon, aromatic vegetables, mushrooms, and wine. And a whole rabbit, of course.

The browned rabbit pieces, herbs, and vegetables, just before the marinade was added.

Ken cut up the rabbit then marinated it in a dry rosé wine along with herbs (leek tops, celery tops, parsley, bay leaves, and thyme), garlic, and carrots. After a couple of hours, he strained the rabbit pieces and browned them, then added the marinade to the pan and let it simmer until the meat was tender. At the end of the cooking, he added the sauteed lardons (smoky bacon) and mushrooms, then thickened the sauce with a beurre manié (a mixture of flour and softened butter) and, voilà, lunch was served.

The stew is served! I didn't take a picture of the mashed potatoes.

We ate mashed potatoes along side and drank a local 2020 gamay. I don't remember exactly when our tradition of eating rabbit on Easter began. It must have been in the mid-eighties. We've been doing it one way or another ever since. The gibelotte is a favorite dish, but we also like lapin à la moutarde (roasted rabbit in Dijon mustard). One year we made an Asian style rabbit stir-fry. It was good, but we've only done that once. Next up: dessert.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Easter lunch: the appetizer

We started with a local specialty, pâté de Pâques, also known as pâté Berrichon, named for the Berry province where it's most commonly made. We didn't make this ourselves. This one comes from the poultry vendor at the local markets, but they're also available in local boulangeries (bakeries) and charcuteries (delis) this time of year.

A serving of pâté de Pâques (Easter pâté).

It's made with flavored pork sausage meat and hard-boiled eggs baked into a flaky pastry crust. It can be quite rich, given that the crust is made with a lot of butter. We split this portion in two for our appetizer. Ken drank a Montbazillac from down near Bergerac, I enjoyed a local sparkling wine. Next up: the main course.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

What's in a wall?

Here's what's in this one. One of our neighbors is having some work done, but I'm not sure what it is. So far, the enduit (render in British English, exterior stucco layer in American English) has been removed to expose the house's stone wall. That happened last winter and nothing has been done since. I don't recall any cracks or other obvious problems with that section of wall. So, we'll wait and see how the project evolves.

All sizes and shapes of stone went into this wall.

Today is pâques (Easter) in the Christian world. We will prepare our annual meal of rabbit. This year it will be lapin en gibelotte (a rabbit stew), with smoky bacon and mushrooms. I also got what's called a pâté de pâques: seasoned sausage meat and a hard-boiled egg wrapped in flaky pastry. That will be our appetizer. For dessert I'm making an amandine aux figues (fresh fig and almond tart). There may be photos.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

One more moon shot

I can't stop. Mostly because I don't have other photos to post at the moment. And I'm saving one for Tasha Tuesday, so this isn't the last.

When the moon hits your eye... yes, I'm making pizza for lunch today.

Friday's errands went smoothly. At the Montrichard market, I waited in line to get the rabbit, but it wasn't unpleasant. Rabbits are typically sold by poultry vendors in France. The vendor I went to is the same local poultry vendor that works the Saturday market in Saint-Aignan. I went to the Montrichard market on Friday just in case they didn't have any rabbits and I'd have to order one for pickup on Saturday. But they had plenty. The guy who "prepares" the poultry (which means cutting the heads and feet off ) asked me if I wanted him to cut up the rabbit. I said no, we'd do it at home, to which the sales lady replied, "Oh, you have knives at home!" Laughs all around.

I looked for some local white asparagus, but the usual suspects didn't have any yet. Still too early. One vendor that I didn't recognize did have some and he wanted €14.90 a kilo for them. I usually get them for €9.00/kg from my usual vendor, so I passed. I can wait.

Among other stops was a winery that I like because they make a pretty good dry rosé from a local grape variety called pineau d'aunis. I took 30 liters. The price has gone up from last year to €3.80/liter, which works out to €2.85/bottle, just over US$3.00 per bottle. We spare no expense. The sales lady reminded me that they would stay open during our confinement because wine is considered un produit de première nécessité (a staple product). But of course.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Monday's moonset

Here's another shot of the full moon setting on Monday morning. The sun was up, lighting the treetops and vineyard posts as it cleared the eastern horizon. I had the 50mm lens on the camera, so the moon just looks like a white ball in the sky. My longer zoom lens (75-300mm) would have let me get closer (to make the moon look bigger) but it might have been difficult to get a good shot without a tripod in the low morning light.

Looking west. 50mm, f8, 1/800s.

It's too soon to tell, but the weather people are hinting at morning freezes and maybe some snow activity early next week. Yikes! And we're going into another confinement starting Monday. Movement around the country will be limited and non-essential shops and businesses will be closed. No haircuts for us for a while. I'm heading out to a winery, a hardware store, and a local market (to get a rabbit for our Easter dinner) this morning. I wonder how crowded it will be in advance of the holiday and the lockdown.

Thursday, April 01, 2021


Remember those vineyard parcels that were dug up last fall? Remember the piles of grape vine trunks that were burned last month? Here's a link to my recent post about them. Last week I noticed that those three parcels have now been plowed in the next step toward replanting. I'm assuming this was the first of a couple of passes with the plow, based on what I've seen before.

Two of the three vineyard parcels that will be replanted in the coming months.

Today is supposed to be the best and last of the nice days for a while. A northeast wind is predicted to build in on Friday and cool us down again over the weekend. April freezes are not uncommon in our region and I'm sure the grape growers will be watching the weather very closely in the coming weeks.