Thursday, September 30, 2021

Jerusalem artichokes

I'm sure it's because of all the rain we've had that the Jerusalem artichokes are doing very well this year, especially those on the west side of the garden shed (to the left in the photo). In dry years, I don't water over there very much and the plants produce many fewer flowers. This year, you can see the difference that water makes.

Once the cracks are patched, I should probably consider a paint job.

The cracks on either side of the door are supposed to be patched as part of our deck renovation work, if that ever starts. We had the door replaced in 2003 when we moved in. The previous door was just crumbling, and it didn't lock. At some point I plan to do something about those shutters (they're crumbling, too) but we've got other priorities in the meantime.

Wednesday, September 29, 2021


A small plot of chenin grapes grows along the vineyard road that we often take on walks with the dogs (past and present). The vast majority of the white grapes grown around us are sauvignon, but other varieties grow here and there, like the parcel of chardonnay near our house. These chenin grapes, the grower once told me, are used for his sweet "late harvest" wine.

Chenin grapes in a small parcel out back.

Chenin is the only* grape used in the Vouvray and Montlouis appellations up on the Loire (near Tours) for their wines, be they sweet, dry, or bubbly. But it's also used in other areas of the Touraine region, either for sweeter wines or for blending in sparkling wines.

*Wikipedia says that another grape, orbois, is authorized for blending in the Vouvray appellation, but that it's rarely used these days.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

Autumn leaves as autumn settles in

It's been fall for a week now. Many of the fall colors we get around here are found in the vineyards. I'm looking forward to the bright yellows and golds of the sauvignon and the deep reds and scarlets of gamay and cabernet. It's starting now, even while the harvest continues.

A very autumnal scene.

Most of the trees in the woods around us go yellow in the fall. There are exceptions, especially in gardens where people have planted trees that reveal other colors this time of year. In our yard, the tilleul (linden) drops golden leaves. The prunus turns bright orange before its leaves fall. In another month or so our trees will be nearly bare.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Camping among the redwoods

During our last summer in San Francisco, I went camping with my friend S. in Butano State Park near the coast just south of the city. Ken and I had been camping a few times in the adjacent Big Basin Redwoods State Park, but there was a twist at Butano. The sites where we camped were walk-in sites. No cars allowed. We parked on a paved road not too far from the sites and carried all our gear in, then took the car to a parking lot for the duration.

That's my tent on the right, S.'s tent is partially hidden by a redwood tree on the left.
Butano State Park, California, August 2002.

It was pretty cool to be in a redwood forest without the sight or sound of cars all around. The drive-in sites on the other side of the campground were much more occupied with campers and RVs, but the walk-in sites were virtually empty. It felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Ken and I did a lot of camping in California (and a little in Nevada and Utah) during our time in San Francisco thanks to our friend S. We saw a lot of places we might never have seen otherwise. I miss those trips. Sleeping on the ground, not so much.

Sunday, September 26, 2021

Me and Diana Ross

We both love mussels. What's that you say? That song wasn't about seafood? Oh well. Diana's loss. We enjoyed mussels for lunch on Saturday. Ken got two kilos (that's a lot for two people) because the vendor had a special. Two kilos cost less than one and a half.

Freshly steamed mussels, open and ready for garnish.

We rinsed the mussels in fresh water then began the process of removing the beards while looking for broken shells or mussels that wouldn't close. There were maybe ten like that and they got discarded. The rest went into a sauce made with white wine, chopped onion, and some garlic, to steam. After they opened, they got sprinkled with chopped parsley.

Mussels topped with chopped parsley waiting for the cream sauce.

To finish them off, Ken added cream to the sauce making our classic moules marinière into moules à la crème. They were delicious served with frites (French fries), as is the custom. We drank a chardonnay from Mâcon (in Burgundy) along side.

Frites !

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Monk see, monk do

This is a blast from the past. Back in September of 2002, my friend S. and I were visiting some wineries in the Sierra foothills around where she lives. I've forgotten the name of this place, and my photos don't have many clues in them. It may be Sierra Starr Vineyards in Grass Valley, but I'm not sure. At any rate, there was a little pond with a deck and this fellow holding an empty bottle as if to say, "Can I have another one?"

That faded label may say "Sierra Starr." Starr is the name of the family that owns and runs the vineyard and winery.

I finished cutting the grass on Friday! A good job, if I do say so myself. Ken decided he would go to the market this morning to get some mussels for lunch. This could be our last warm day for a while. We're expecting rain showers later in the day.

Friday, September 24, 2021

The artichokes are done

I'll cut these down soon and add them to the yard waste pile. But I'm enjoying their "last stand." They look like medieval torture instruments. Or triffids.

Not long ago, these were bright green with deep blue flowers.

Thursday turned out to be another very nice day (after a chilly morning) and I got the west forty mowed. All that's left is the north forty and I'm planning to do that today. The weather is expected to change over the weekend so, at least for now, the grass will be cut. It could be the last cut of the season depending on October's weather. We'll see.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

The last of the hydrangeas

Our hydrangeas still have a couple of flower heads with color. Most have faded to white. I'll be pruning them back once the leaves fall.

Our hydrangea flowers are pink and purple. I've tried to get that elusive blue with no luck. They're still pretty.

I pushed myself and got the south forty mowed yesterday afternoon. It looks much better. I'm planning to do the west forty today, then the north forty on Friday. The weather is good so I need to "make hay" while the sun shines, as they say. I can't cut the grass in the morning because we're getting heavy dew at sunrise. It takes most of the morning just to burn off. Wait. Does dew "burn off," or is that just fog?

In other news, the first of the grape picking out back started yesterday. A big mechanical harvester came and picked the chardonnay in the northern parcel near our house. The chardonnay is typically the first grape to be harvested around here. Very few winemakers in our region make a pure chardonnay wine. They use it to blend into the bubbly wines.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Faded flowers

As it does at the end of every summer, our daisy patch has gone from vibrant yellow, white, and green to a ghostly brown. The flower stalks stand in the garden like otherworldly sentinels of doom. They'll remain until I cut them down to prepare for spring's new growth.

A dead head, grateful or otherwise.

Today is the first day of astronomical autumn. That is, it is the season that begins with the autumnal equinox, one of two days each year when the amount of daylight is equal to the amount of darkness, and ends at the winter solstice. According to Wikipedia, the astronomical seasons were first described by the ancient Romans.

Meteorological autumn began on the first of September and will end on the thirtieth of November. Meteorological seasons are mostly calendar based and coincide with four groups of three months each. Again from Wikipedia, meteorological seasons were first described in the late eighteenth century.

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Chicken Pad Thai

This was Monday's lunch. Ken made a variation on Pad Thai using chicken breast and bell peppers. We had some Chinese wheat noodles in the pantry that we used instead of flat rice noodles. The sauce was easy with the ingredients we have on hand. Peanuts gave the dish some crunch, and we garnished with fresh chives from the garden and the other half of the bunch of cilantro I got on Saturday. Needless to say, we ate it all.

A what-we-had-on-hand version of Pad Thai. Some kinda good!

During my walk with Tasha yesterday afternoon, I ran into to the woman who, along with her husband, owns most of the vineyard parcels out behind our house. I very nearly didn't recognize her because I haven't seen her in a while. She was testing the grapes for ripeness. I asked her when they might start harvesting and she told me, if I understood correctly, that they've already begun picking chardonnay and another grape (I can't remember) for the bubbly wines they make. The sauvignon blanc and the red grapes are going to hang on for another week because the weather is predicted to be sunny and dry.

She asked me if I had tasted any of the grapes and I hadn't. Maybe I'll taste a few on this morning's walk.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Corn silks

The corn cobs in the two corn fields out back have matured. There aren't many, and most of them are thin, not like good eating corn. I'm sure it's not eating corn, anyway. The French get their corn out of cans. Corn on the cob is not sweet and is grown as feed for pigs and other livestock.

Corn silks on tiny corn cobs.

Every once in a while we'll find sweet corn on the cob in the supermarket. Ken did once this summer and we enjoyed it cooked on the grill. It's one of those things that remind me of summer in the US.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

A pile of pretty peppers

And some onions. Saturday was Tex-Mex day at our house. Ken made beef fajitas and guacamole for lunch. I went to the market to find peppers and cilantro while Ken made the marinade for the beef. The supermarket didn't have any cilantro, but I found some at a nearby produce store (their last bag!). I also got some flour tortillas to wrap the meat and vegetables in. ¡Olé!

Colorful bell peppers and onion ready for the sauté pan.

Today Ken's making a more traditional French dish: gratin de chou-fleur (cauliflower in a cheese sauce). We're having fall-like weather this weekend, so a nice warm and cheesy gratin will hit the spot. Fall and winter vegetables are showing up in the markets now. I'm looking forward to all the tasty dishes we'll make in the coming months.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Ten years ago today

I was posting photos of our hedges. More specifically, photos of my progress in trimming them. This was before I stopped trimming the hedges myself and started paying a landscaper to do it. I don't regret that decision.

This is the smallest section of the hedge adjacent to the driveway. We hadn't yet replaced the deck doors then. 18 September 2011.

We're expecting a chilly and wet weekend, if the weather people are to be trusted. Fall is coming in right on schedule. I'm still hopeful that we'll have some more good weather over the next month or so. It could happen. Really.

Yesterday I called the contractor who is supposed to renovate our deck. I talked to his wife again. I told her that we were getting worried since it's been almost a year since we approved the estimate and sent a check. She said not to worry, but they've been falling behind this year. I'm assuming it's because the bad weather has delayed a lot of their work, especially roof work. She assured me that her husband would call and let us know when he thinks they'll be able to start. I'm waiting, but not for long. There's another contractor who's been working in our neighborhood. He's done façade renovation for one of our neighbors and the result looks good. Now he's doing work for the new neighbors inside their house. I'm assuming it's new kitchen tile. We know they planned to re-do their kitchen. We're going to ask him for an estimate for our job.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Steamed pork buns

This isn't the first time I've made Chinese steamed pork buns, but it has been a while since the last time. They're not difficult to make, but you do need two to three hours for the yeast dough to rise, with another thirty minutes of rising after the buns are stuffed. For the stuffing, we used some pulled pork that Ken made in the slow cooker and froze a few weeks ago. He thawed it out and added Asian flavors (like soy, sesame, hot chili sauce, ginger, etc.) while warming it up on the stove.

Eight steamed pork buns for lunch.

The recipe I used makes eight buns. Once the dough had risen, I rolled it into a log and cut it into eight equal pieces. I formed each piece into a ball and then flattened the balls into disks. I put a spoonful of the pork in the middle of each disk and pulled the dough up and around the stuffing, pinching it together at the top to form a good seal. After the buns rested (and rose a little more) under a towel, I put them in the steamer pot for twelve to fifteen minutes.

Egg rolls with a sweet and spicy dipping sauce.

We ate them with egg rolls (from the supermarket) and stir-fried zucchini (from the garden) with a spicy Asian sauce. The wine was one of our local gamays from across the river. Tasty!

Thursday, September 16, 2021

One year ago today

Looking back at my blog posts for this time last year, I see that we were in a heat wave. The grape harvest was nearly complete, and the daily work got under way even before the sun rose. It's a very different year now. We had more rain this summer than any in recent memory. The grape harvest hasn't even begun yet. And while we just had a week of moderately hot and dry weather, it wasn't harsh and it didn't last long.

Grape harvesters seen from our house at sunrise a year ago, September 16, 2020.

I had a dentist appointment scheduled for yesterday, but on Tuesday the dentist called and asked if he could reschedule. He had some kind of meeting on Wednesday morning and was afraid he wouldn't make it back in time for me. So now my appointment is for next month. It's only a cleaning, so there's no problem.

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Lost Found

I don't know how it's possible, but somehow I lost my eyeglasses. I went out for an afternoon walk with Tasha and at some point realized I didn't have my glasses on. This happens every now and then. I go out the door in a hurry and forget to put them on, often because I was wearing my computer glasses just before going out. So, I figured, they're probably home on my desk. But when I got home, I couldn't find them anywhere. Panic set in. Did I drop them in the vineyard?

They're out there.

I went back out, twice, and retraced my steps, but with no luck. I'm planning to have another look this morning when it gets light. In the meantime, I have an old pair (previous prescription) that are working surprisingly well. Maybe I should get one of those eyeglass chains to wear around my neck.

UPDATE: I found them this morning. They were very close to the start of  our walk, in a patch of grass, folded, lenses pointing up. I have no idea how. My working theory is that I batted a biting insect away and batted the glasses off then. I thought that happened later in the walk, but maybe not.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Look familiar?

Part of this photo is this week's Image of the Week (in the sidebar to the right). Can you tell I've run out of fresh pictures again? I don't know what wildflower this is, but it's blooming all around right now.

If anyone knows what these are, I'd appreciate a comment.

We had some thunder and lightning over night, but no rain. The storm moved by us to the west and north. Bert sauntered in around 02h30 this morning, about the same time that the storm was moving off. And once again, thankfully, no mouse.

Monday, September 13, 2021

Another golden sunrise photo

I took this photo a week ago while we were still in our mini heat wave. The weather is still good, just not as hot. The angle of the light this time of year shining on the brown grasses makes them look painted in gold.

The end of the dirt road through the vineyards, the half-way point in our morning walks.

Mary in Oregon asked if I enhanced the color for these shots. The answer is yes. I take my pictures in RAW format. That requires that I use software to "develop" them before exporting them as JPG files for the internet. The RAW files are huge and very dull-looking right out of the camera. The developing process gives me a lot of control with regard to light, color, sharpness, perspective, and probably a hundred other variables that I don't know how to adjust. That said, I try to make the images look true to what I saw in the field, except for when I'm going for some special effect, like b/w, sepia tones, or something like that.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Fading color

These are the hortensias (hydrangeas) that I grew from cuttings many years ago. There were four, but the other two did not survive in their location on the other side of the garage door. Now we have an aucuba there. It's holding on, but not thriving. There's still a little color left in the hydrangea flowers, but it's fading fast. When the leaves fall, it will be time to prune the stems back for the winter.

Hydrangeas under the garage window.

If you look closely, you can see a board leaning up against the window sill. It serves as a ramp for Bert to come in and out of the garage and, by extension, the house. When he's in for the night, I close the window until morning. Last night he came in around just before one a.m. No mouse.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

A boy and his dog

Having fun with shadows. Tasha went "snout to the ground" as I snapped the photo so her shadow lost its ears. Better luck next time.

Luke Skywalker and R2D2? I sometimes call her Kenobi, as in Obi Quiet, Kenobi.

Bert came in from outside just before two a.m. this morning. With a mouse. At least it was dead by the time he dropped it on the landing. I made sure he ate it before I climbed back up to bed. I wonder what he does for hours out there in the dark before he decides to come inside.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Trimmed and mowed

This past week, while the weather was warm and dry, the vineyards out back got trimmed and mowed. The guy that did the work drove a tractor over the vines with an attachment that trims the tendrils from the tops and sides of the vines. After that was done, he drove the tractor pulling a mowing attachment between the vine rows to cut the grass down. Everything is squared off and we can walk between the rows again.

Trimmed and ready for harvest. I wonder when they'll start.

The plumber and his helper replaced our shower door yesterday as promised. It only took them two hours to take out the old door (and its frame) and install the new one. Good as new! So far. Time will tell if this door will come off its supports like the previous one did. We had the replacement door already because the manufacturer gave us a new one when he verified that the first one was defective. We decided to hold it in reserve in case the plumber's repair didn't work. The repair worked for a few years, but recently gave out. The plumber didn't charge us for his labor, either. Part of his guarantee, he said, even though the defect was not his fault.

If this second door proves defective, too, we will have to look at another type of door. We saw some options on line that should work when the time comes.

Thursday, September 09, 2021


The grapes have enjoyed our week of summery weather. They're looking pretty ripe out there now. I haven't seen any of the growers testing the grapes for sugar levels yet, so I don't think the harvest is about to start. I'll keep my eyes open.

Much riper looking now than just a week ago.

Our plumber is coming over this morning, bright and early, to replace our shower door. You might remember that we had a new shower stall built about five years ago. The door, a folding glass door, came loose shortly after it was installed. The plumber repaired it, but I insisted we get a new one. He called the manufacturer who sent a rep out inspect it. He agreed to give us a new door. We didn't have it installed because the plumber's repair seemed to hold. We stored the new door down in the garage.

Since then, the door has come off its supports again (there are four) and this time the plumber's repair didn't hold, so we've asked him to take out the old door and put in the "new" one. Of course, there's no guarantee that the "new" door doesn't have the same defect. We shall see. If it comes apart, too, we will have to find another solution. It's always something.

Wednesday, September 08, 2021

September sunrise

The sun rose yesterday in a clear sky. Tasha and I enjoyed our sunrise walk. I think we started around 07h30. The sunrises are getting later and later as we near the equinox. This photo is from early in our walk, looking back at the hamlet as we make our way west.

Looking easterly at sunrise on Tuesday.

On Sunday morning we saw a sure sign of the coming autumn: hunters were out past the end of the dirt road participating in a battue (an organized hunt). They were likely hunting deer or foxes. I looked at the hunting association's web site and saw that the season for pheasants, hares, and other small game animals begins on the 26th. General hunting happens only on Sundays from 09h00 to noon, then from 2h30 until sunset. I think I saw that the season ends at the end of January.

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Wild wort

This is millepertuis (St. John's wort) in its wild form. It grows everywhere along the edges of the vineyard roads and even among the vines themselves. The wort produces its bright yellow flowers all summer.

A clump of wild St. John's wort grows at the end of a row of grape vines.

We inherited a big plot of domesticated wort along the south side of our house. It also fills in a ditch along the road just outside our property. The flowers are much bigger than the those of wild variety, but they're the same bright yellow color. I've tried to get rid of it, but it's quite tenacious. I've since read that it's almost impossible to eliminate (without serious effort, digging, and chemicals) because of its extensive network of rhizomes beneath the soil.

Monday, September 06, 2021

Knapweed and something else

The bright purple flowers belong to the knapweed, but those rounder purplish globes without flowers look to be something else. I don't remember noticing them before, but I certainly am noticing them now.

Are they another plant, or just knapweed at a different stage?

Our little late summer heat wave is continuing. So far it's not anywhere near oppressive, but the next couple of days in the low 30sC (upper 80sF) could get a little uncomfortable for sleeping. Mostly because we're just not used to it. A cool-down is predicted toward the end of the week.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

We'll always have Paris

I let this anniversary go by until Ken reminded me. Forty years ago last Thursday was 2 September 1981. I left New York for my first-ever trip to Paris to spend a school year learning French at the Alliance Française. The transportation was arranged by the college that sponsored the year abroad program. Students from all over the US were on their own to get to the flight, Icelandic Air Flight 204 out of JFK, an overnight flight with a re-fueling stop in Reykjavik, Iceland. The final destination was Luxembourg. Then we took a train to Paris.

As you can see, I still have the boarding pass. Both of them.

The flight cost US $470 round-trip back then. I thought it was a fortune. It was my first international flight, and probably my third or fourth flight ever. I took a train from home (upstate New York) to Grand Central in Manhattan and got a ride to JFK from a friend who lived in Brooklyn. The flight took off after dark and it was an hour or so late. The plane was likely a Douglas DC-8, based on the airline's fleet composition on Wikipedia. Icelandic Air was absorbed into the Icelandair group right around the time of our flight.

This trip was the biggest adventure of my young life up to that point. And, more significantly, when our train arrived at the Gare du Nord in Paris that night forty years ago, we students were met on the platform by the program's resident director, Ken B., who would later become my husband.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Shorts and tee-shirts

It's happening. Summer is back. Sun. Dry days. High temperatures in the 80sF. I grilled hamburgers for lunch on Friday. And I'm enjoying wearing shorts again. We'll see how long it lasts.

Grapes to the right, corn on the left (in the back). A recent sunrise.

Bert stayed out last night until almost three in the morning. I woke up around 23h30 thinking I felt him walk across my legs (which he does frequently). I must have been dreaming because he was not at all there. Then I tossed and turned and barely slept while I waited for him to come home. After he moseyed in, I continued to toss and turn until I got up just after six. What a wasted night.

Friday, September 03, 2021

It's not Vigeland...

The first thing I thought of when I saw this pile of grape vine trunks in one of the dug-up parcels out back this summer was the sculpture by Gustav Vigeland in Frogner Park, Oslo, Norway. A friend of mine (now deceased) visited Scandinavia when she was younger and had taken photos of that evocative sculpture. I've never visited Norway, so I've not seen the sculpture in person.

A pile of dead grape vine trunks in the vineyards behind our house.

We're enjoying the warm and, so far, dry weather. We may see a few rain showers today and maybe again tomorrow. In the meantime, I'm watering what's left of the vegetable garden by hand.

See what I mean? You be the judge.
Photo by Andrew Shiva, Wikipedia.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

The (garden) party is over

Our 2021 vegetable garden is almost a memory. There are still zukes, kale, and chard growing (sort of). On Wednesday, I cut all the weeds down with the mower after piling up the pulled plants and some trimmings and tree branches (that were piled in the garden path). I'll get rid of those later.

Tasha "helps" with the garden cleanup.

The plot will have to be tilled up at some point and I'll probably have to mow it again before that happens. And, in accordance with the laws of the universe, the sun has been shining brightly over nice warm and dry days since I removed the soaker hose.

Wednesday, September 01, 2021

The last of the tomatoes

This year's tomato harvest is over, at least in our vegetable garden. I picked the last decent-looking toms on Monday and pulled the plants out of the ground. They (the tomatoes) will go into a meat sauce for today's pasta lunch, I think.

The last of the Mohicans tomatoes.

Yesterday I took down the trellis fence at the back of the garden plot. I planted climbing peas and beans there last spring but didn't have much luck with them. Quelle surprise. I also pulled the fence supports out of the ground and am re-thinking how I'll use the trellis next year. The last thing I did yesterday was to prune back the aggressive blackberry brambles that advance on the north-side fence each year. This year, of course, they're super aggressive because of the abundant spring and summer rains we had. After trimming, I ran the lawnmower along the outside of the fence.

It feels good to get out there and begin to take back control. We've been letting a lot of the yard work go in anticipation of the planned tree and shrub removal and the renovation of the garden path. It all looks a mess out there. The landscape contractor wrote yesterday that he's scheduled us for October 4. He has to reserve a small tractor rental for some of the extraction and renovation work. Another month to wait.