Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Tasha again

Just another photo of the back yard with Tasha. She likes to inspect every smell, likely hoping to find some critter to chase. Callie used to find hedgehogs and go wild, but they more or less disappeared when Bert joined the family. Now that he's gone, maybe they'll come back.We get the occasional squirrel, but the most common visitors are the birds. And Tasha likes to chase birds.

Tasha inspects the fence line on the north side.

The biggest critters we've had in the yard are the deer. Once in a while, one will somehow get in, often by crashing through the fence at a weak point. The last one that got in had me and Tasha working together to herd it toward the open gate. It turned out that we weren't working together after all and I had to put her in the house and herd the deer myself until it found the open gate.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Tasha Tuesday

Tasha helped me out in the yard and garden the other day. Here she is watching birds, just before they take off and she chases them. Or maybe it was a car going by. Ever vigilant.

It's time for a bath and a trim.

After a soggy spring, we're now in a summer-like cycle. Dry days, warm afternoons. It feels like summer up in the loft at night. We're sleeping with the windows open and a fan on. Outside, the soil (such as it is) in the vegetable garden is drying out. A little rain would be nice. I could set up the sprinkler, but I don't think that's a good idea while we're in a drought. And we still are.

Monday, May 29, 2023

Happy hamlet

Here's Tasha inspecting the newly planted grape vines in one of the vineyard parcels out back. On the other side of the road is a parcel that's been replanted since we moved here. I can't recall which year it was. Maybe five years ago? Maybe ten? It could even be fifteen.

Looking easterly toward our hamlet on a sunny afternoon.

Today is Pentecost Monday, a holiday in France. I think it's the last spring holiday before summer vacations start.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

New vines

Yesterday afternoon, Tasha and I walked by the vineyard parcel out back that's being re-planted. It's only about half done. Work will probably resume on Tuesday, this being another three-day holiday weekend (Pentecost). There's a metal thing in the ground next to each new vine. I don't know what they are (maybe support stakes?), but I saw them being installed by hand earlier in the day. That's a lot of work!

Hard to see, but the vines are the little red things sticking up through the dirt.

You can see who I believe to be the vigneronne (grower/winemaker) driving a mowing tractor in the background. She's the latest (forth generation, I think) in the family to take up the business. She did her university work in grape growing and wine making, if I'm not mistaken. We still see her parents around now and then, but much less than we used to. Grape growing is hard work!

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Planting grapes

Trucks, tractors, and other vehicles gathered out back yesterday with a crew ready to plant new grape vines. The grower has been working on the parcel for months (grading and fertilizing), and yesterday I saw it being finely plowed before the planting started. From what I can tell (I'm only observing and I haven't talked to anyone), the planting is aided by GPS -- there was some kind of receiver/antenna thing with blinking lights on a tripod next to the parcel as the crew worked. The vines themselves come grafted onto root stock, encased in some kind of waxy substance. Two guys ride on a planting machine attached to the back of a tractor loading those "plugs" into it. The machine then plants them at the right depth with the right amount of space in between, two rows at a time. The waxy stuff will melt away as the vines sprout leaves and grow.

Over-zoomed phone photo of trucks and tractors out in the vineyard.

I haven't been out to see the result, yet. That'll be later today when Tasha and I go out for our afternoon walk. I'll try to remember to take the camera. The next thing they'll do, I think, is put wooden anchor posts in the ground at the ends of each row. Later, like a year or more from now, metal posts will go in along the rows and guide wires will be strung to support the vines and their fruit. This is all based on what I've seen in the different parcels that were re-planted over the years.

And speaking of agriculture, I planted a row of green bean seeds in the vegetable garden yesterday. I'll plant a second row in a couple of weeks, and maybe a third row a couple of weeks after that.

Friday, May 26, 2023

I don't give a fig

Well, more like I don't get a fig. Our fig tree has produced more figs this spring than I've ever seen, especially for the spring crop. There's also a summer crop yet to come. The problem is that they're all hard as rocks. I'm hoping that they'll ripen and that we will be able to enjoy some before the birds and insects get them. I should do some research to see if they will ripen off the tree. If so, I could harvest some now.

Figs on our tree. There are a lot more than you can see here.

I think that huge vineyard parcel out back that was prepared for replanting over the past two years is getting its new vines soon. There's activity out there this morning and, a couple of weeks ago, one row of vines was planted. I don't know why only one row went in. Ah, the mysteries of wine making. I'll get a closer view when I take the morning walk with Tasha.

Thursday, May 25, 2023

Chickpea salad

For some reason, we have a surplus of chickpeas in the pantry. Probably because of sales, but it could also just be forgetfulness. So I went on line to get some ideas for using them. Chickpea salad on the site Natasha's Kitchen caught my eye. I didn't even know our dog had a blog, let alone that she was a first rate chef. LOL.

Chickpea salad with tomato, cucumber, corn, avocado, feta cheese, and cilantro.

It's a pretty easy salad to make and it can be varied almost infinitely. I added corn kernels to the mix. The dressing is a simple mix of olive oil with lemon juice and garlic, but almost any vinaigrette-style dressing would work. I grilled a couple of Toulouse sausages to have along side. A good summery lunch!

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

A lone poppy

This is a coquelicot (wild poppy) that sprang up out among the grape vines this spring. There are others here and there, but no great mass of them. I was hoping these would also come up in our north forty. Apparently, for poppy seeds to sprout, the soil where they are has to be disturbed. In this case, it was plowed to discourage weeds. In my yard, I did nothing. Ergo, no poppies for me.

A poppy among the vines (and weeds).

I cut both the north and west forties (except for the meadow) on Tuesday morning. It was a little damp and slow going in spots. The mower left a lot of grass clumps behind. I'm going to try to get some of it up as it dries out. It makes good mulch for the garden and it's a good addition to the compost pile. The weather is expected to warm up some over the next few days.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

The garden is (mostly) in

Yesterday afternoon I planted three zucchini seedlings and two pumpkin seedlings. They were getting a little leggy in the greenhouse, so it was time. The next thing to do is to get a first row of green bean seeds in. Then the vegetable garden will be more or less set for the summer. Except, of course, for watering and weeding. What fun!

Ten tomatoes on the left, red peonies blooming on the right and, next to them, the artichokes have good-sized buds already.

I do miss having eggplant and peppers in the garden. We had some really good years for them early on, but then the drought settled in and the fruit quality and yield dwindled, so I kind of gave up on them. Last year was more or less a bust for zukes and toms (at least in my garden), but the green beans did well. This year, however, the soil is looking and feeling better than is has in recent years after the relatively deep tilling that the landscaper did. So I'm hopeful. And I'm trying to be better about adding our compost in. Fingers crossed.

Monday, May 22, 2023

Tarte aux fraises

I've been wanting to make a strawberry tart since the berry season started, but I worried that I wouldn't be able to make the crème pâtissière (pastry cream) successfully. Past attempts resulted in a thin sauce that wouldn't thicken or a sauce that thickened too much and became lumpy. Ken came to the rescue and offered to make it this time. The crème worked well and was delicious (although Ken mentioned that it could have been a little sweeter). I did the crust, a pâte sablée. Instead of glazing the fruit, I made a coulis with strawberries and sugar and poured that over the berries.

Fresh strawberries set on a layer of pastry cream in a shortbread or cookie crust.

Sunday was a productive day. I did the taxes! That's done for another year. And... I planted the tomato seedlings out in the garden. First I needed to rake a little to smooth out the dirt, then pound the stakes into the ground. There are ten plants, three varieties. Today I hope to get the zucchini and pumpkin seedlings in. Then I can think about planting a row of green beans. And there's grass to be cut!

Sunday, May 21, 2023


Or, as I used to call it when I was a kid, spare grass. I found green asparagus at yesterday's market in town and I grilled them and some sausages for lunch. The poultry vendor at the market makes chicken sausages with either herbs (when made with pork they're called chipolatas), piment d'espelette (hot red pepper from Basque country), or merguez style (spicy North African sausages usually made with lamb and/or beef). I got four of each style and froze half of them for another time. We had frites (fries) along side.

Green asparagus are not widely available around here. White is more common.

Since I went to the market earlier than usual, I had time when I got home to run the lawnmower over the south forty. The rest of the yard will get done again soon. It hasn't rained for a while and the grass' growth is slowing. On today's agenda. you guessed it: tax returns.

Saturday, May 20, 2023

The meadow project

Lord, we don't need another meadow.

A fellow blogger in Cleveland, OH, posted yesterday about a movement in the US called "No Mow May." People are being encouraged to allow their lawns to grow during the month of May to help provide a feeding ground for pollinators. Little did I know that I was part of the game.

The north forty, about 1/3 mowed, 2/3 not. That post on the lower left is a distorted view of the clothesline.
Part of me wants to cut pretty patterns through the tall grass. The rest of me is lazy. Maybe next year.

My reasons for not mowing were not so noble as suburban America's. I wanted wild poppies to bloom in the spot where they bloomed last year. I didn't get my wish, but I did allow a big section of the north forty to put up a lot of other wildflowers. They may not be easy to see in this photo, but there are tiny flowers of yellow, blue, white, and purple all through the green. You can see that I've mowed a path around the edge of the plot. A few days ago I expanded the mowed part. That stuff is hard to cut down when it's this tall. I've been steadily mowing the other sections of the lawn (the west and south forties) all along. We live in the country where there are meadows a-plenty, so I don't feel any great need to let the whole property go weedy.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Oh, the anguish

I'm still procrastinating on the tax return. I don't know why, it's not difficult and there are no problems. I'm just busy doing other things. The weather is decent right now, except for the chilly mornings, and I've been working on little yard and garden projects. You know, make hay while the sun shines. Then there's food shopping and making/grilling lunch. Today I'm going up to the supermarket to trade in an empty gas bottle for a full one so we don't run out. I have two small bottles for the grill so that I always have a spare. I'll take Tasha with me; she likes to ride in the car. She barks at oncoming traffic.

Part of a display of gargoyles at the Château de Blois. October 2012.

Then there are the two larger bottles that we used in the house for the gas stove before we made the switch to induction. I've been using that leftover gas in the grill for a while. Once they're empty (and it's close), those bottles go back to the supermarket and we get our deposit (made in 2008) refunded.

Ken tilled the vegetable garden plot again yesterday. It's the third pass and maybe the last before I plant the seedlings out. The grass continues to grow wildly so I'll likely be mowing again soon, weather permitting.

Thursday, May 18, 2023


Bellflowers in English. These come up every year next to our front door, having been planted many years ago by the previous owner. They flower from spring through fall, as long as we, or Mother Nature, keep them well watered. There's another patch on the northeast corner of the house, but it's not as brilliant as this patch. I've tried to propagate them into the Real Fake Well a time or two, but they never took hold. Probably because I didn't water them enough in those especially hot and dry years.

Campanules and hortensia (hydrangea).

Speaking of dry, we're supposed to be warming up with little precipitation through the weekend. It's time to get out there and finish preparing the vegetable garden, which means one more once-over with the tiller and, finally, planting the seedlings out. I'm looking forward to that.

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Snowball effect

Our neighbors have a beautiful snowball bush in their yard and we have a great view of it from our kitchen window and the deck. It's at peak bloom right now. The flowers will soon fade and the tree will be green until the fall.

Our neighbors' snowball bush seen from the deck.

I did some more mowing in the north forty yesterday. I'm reducing the size of the "wild meadow" by mowing a wide margin all around. It's tough going because the grass is thick and tall, as are the wildflowers and tree saplings that grow in the yard. I don't see any sign of poppies coming back. I wonder why they showed up last year, but not this year.

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Flowers on deck

The geraniums are all planted as are the impatiens (I don't have photos of them yet). I put two pots of three plants each on the deck, then put eight plants in the kitchen window boxes.

The only thing missing is the umbrella. And some sunshine.

Here's hoping they survive. This morning's low temperature is about 7ºC (just under 45ºF, brrr!). It's expected to stay that way through to the weekend. No freezes are predicted, so that's good, but it's still chilly. I also cut the west forty yesterday. Yay!

I got one step done in the tax return prep. I have a spreadsheet that I use to record all of our taxable income by source and to calculate the equivalent in euros. So I got that completed for 2022. Now it's just a matter of putting the numbers in the return form on line and hit "submit." The French form is automatically filled out with French income sources and all the other information that doesn't usually change (names, addresses, filing status, etc.), so it just needs a once-over and it's done.

Monday, May 15, 2023

Salmon on the grill

It had been a while since we cooked fish on the grill. And certainly a while since salmon was that fish. But last week I had a hankerin' for the pink stuff and found some at the market where I got the geraniums. We seasoned it with salt and pepper, added some hot smoked paprika and a few shakes of liquid smoke, and grilled it low and slow, trying to evoke that smokey flavor that goes so well with salmon.

An opportunity to use the fish platter.

It didn't taste particularly smokey (meaning that we didn't over-do it), but it was tasty nonetheless. We served it with steamed broccoli and potatoes and Ken made a beurre blanc (butter, shallots, white wine) sauce to pull it all together. We should do fish on the grill more often.

Sauced and served.

I've got two weeks to submit our French tax return before the deadline. It will probably only take me an hour to do, so I just have to do it. I keep finding ways to put it off. Yesterday, I potted impatiens and grilled half a chicken for lunch. How will I procrastinate today?

Sunday, May 14, 2023

It's easy being green

With relatively warm temperatures and a good amount of rain, this spring is one of the greenest in recent memory. The grass is growing so fast that even the people who do the mowing and trimming along the roads and in other public areas are having a hard time keeping up. In places, the grasses and wildflowers are almost a meter high. I haven't cut the north forty at all (except for a path around the edges). It's my experiment in growing a meadow. I was waiting to see if poppies would sprout like they did last year, but so far they're not.

Looking west out the den window.

I'm itching to cut the west forty, but it's been either too rainy or too wet from dew. Oh well. I'm not complaining; we need the rain. The grass will take care of itself and eventually I'll get it back in shape. Meanwhile, it's pretty.

Saturday, May 13, 2023

Rainbow's end

Maybe it should be called a "fogbow." It wasn't raining, but a rainbow appeared in the fog as the sun poked through. I saw the end. I'm keeping the gold.

The end of the rainbow.

Friday was productive. A trip to the post office, a gas fill-up for the lawnmower and tiller, I potted up some geraniums for the deck, and I cut the grass in the south forty and outside the hedges. I may attack the west forty today, if the weather cooperates.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Foggy vineyard

The grape vines are really leafing out now. It won't be long before the flowers come out. Not that you'd know, because grape flowers are tiny and difficult to see without being up close. What you can see are the flowers on the plants in between the vines. This parcel, from the center and toward the left in the photo, was planted with a natural fertilizer a couple of years ago. It's a kind of clover that, I think, fixes nitrogen in the soil where it's planted. The vine rows to the right of center are not planted with the clover. It looks like both parcels were treated with an herbicide around the vine trunks where the grasses are brown.

The vineyard on a foggy morning.

My trip to the market yesterday was successful. I found geraniums that I wanted and brought home fourteen of them for the deck and the kitchen window box. I also got a small flat of impatiens. They like to grow on our north window's sill, but we haven't seen impatiens for several years now. Something happened to make them scarce, but I never really understood what it was. Whatever it was, I hope these will be healthy and happy through the summer. Now it's time to pot them all up.

Thursday, May 11, 2023

More fog

I took a bunch of foggy fotos on Monday morning. This one is the west forty in our back yard. One of the apple trees is on the right, the vegetable garden plot is tilled and waiting, the dark-leafed tree is a plum that Ken grew from a pit and planted many years ago. The sickly cherry that stood nearby was removed in January, and that greatly improved the view. Our garden shed has seen better days, but it's still serviceable.

On the right, adjacent to the garden plot, is the oregano patch. Should be a nice crop this year.

The grass looks nice and tidy in this shot, but it was a few days ago and it's shot up again. I'm waiting for a couple of dry days to get it all back under control. It's been a wet and relatively warm spring so far.

This morning I'm heading to a market a few towns away. They have a vendor there who normally has a lot of flowers for sale. I'm in the market for geraniums for pots and flower boxes. I'm also hoping to find a nice piece of salmon for the grill.

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Foggy walk

The fog thickened on Monday morning as the sun rose and Tasha and I headed out for our walk. It was a holiday and the few sounds we heard were muffled. Except for the birds. Tasha bounded through the dew-soaked grasses and her wet feet picked up enough sand that she needed a quick rinse once we got home.

Looking back toward the sunrise as we headed out into the vineyards Monday morning.

Tasha goes to the vet today for her annual check-up, weigh-in, and shots. Routine stuff.

Tuesday, May 09, 2023

Strawberry shortcake

Strawberry shortcake has always been one of my favorite desserts, often eaten at Grandma's house and, more often than not, made with store-bought spongy shortcakes and Cool Whip. These days, I make my own shortcake, usually in the form of old-fashioned biscuits, and I use French crème fraîche (a very lightly soured cream) in place of the store-bought whipped cream product. Like my grandmother did, I sprinkle the cut berries with a little sugar before serving them.

Strawberry shortcake, cream on top.

The cake in this case was a yogurt cake, made thin in a sheet pan. It's a little sweeter than biscuits, even after I cut the amount of sugar in the recipe by half, but no less delicious. We're in the height of strawberry season right now and I'm enjoying it.

Monday, May 08, 2023

Leftovers again

When I get asparagus from the market, it comes in one-kilo bunches. That's a lot of spears. Consequently, there are always often leftovers. What to do? Last week, I grilled them. These had already been peeled and steamed, so a quick turn on the grill was all it took. We served them as a first course with Ken's home-made ranch dressing. Delish!

Grilled white asparagus, locally grown.

Today should be a nice day, weather wise. Tomorrow looks wet. Well, we need the rain.

Sunday, May 07, 2023

Eglise Saint-Nicolas

This church, on the right bank of the Loire at Blois, sits almost directly below the château. The twelfth century church was built in the romanesque style. There are, however, some flying buttresses and pointed arches, more usually associated with the gothic style.

The church of St.-Nicolas in Blois, seen from the château. October 2012.

I planted five agapanthus plants around the Real Fake Well yesterday. I'm betting on no freezes between now and next weekend. The 11th, 12th, and 13th of May are known as les saints de glace (The Ice Saints), the traditional dates after which the danger of frost is considered over. Just for fun, the saints are Mamert, Pancrace, and Servais.

Ken and I did not plan to post a photo of the same church today. But we did.

Saturday, May 06, 2023

The other side

This is the northern, or exterior, façade of the renaissance (François I) wing, Château de Blois. It's recognizably Italian in style, especially the loges along the breadth of the building. If you look closely, just behind and above the largest of the rounded shrubs, you can see the stained glass windows of the Oratoire (oratory or small chapel) de Catherine de Médicis extending outward from the façade.

The renaissance wing of the Château de Blois. October 2012.

The deck contractor came by yesterday and finished his work by installing a piece of aluminum edging that he needed to order because he ran out. We had rain most of the morning and the slope of the deck seems to be correct. There were no water incursions toward the house, although there are a couple of puddles that form on the outside edge beyond the roof line. That's pretty normal.

Friday, May 05, 2023

The François I stair

The courtyard side of the Château de Blois includes this grand staircase. The sixteenth century building was constructed in the Italian-inspired renaissance style under King François I.

The François I stair at the Château de Blois. October 2012.

Today I'm planning a trip to a nearby market for tomato seedlings and a few other things. It's expected to rain some, so I'll have to make a decision about going as the morning progresses. I dug up the planting strip around the Real Fake Well yesterday. Its winter growth of weeds had to come out. I have some agapanthes (agapanthus) that I want to plant there this year. I've been holding them in the greenhouse since last fall.

Thursday, May 04, 2023

Angles and perspective

It seems to me that it's difficult to get a wide-angle shot from inside the courtyard at the Château de Blois without a lot of distortion at the edges. I'm sure it can be done, with multiple shots and some skill with photography software, just not by me. This is a single shot of the gothic Louis XII wing which dates from the late fifteenth/early sixteenth centuries. On the right you can see the spire and roof line of the castle's chapel.

The Louis XII wing of the Château de Blois. October 2012.

The royal château at Blois is an amalgam of many architectural styles ranging from the medieval to the classical, the last of which was never fully realized before construction was halted in the seventeenth century.

Wednesday, May 03, 2023

A case of stairs

These stairs are in Blois, the préfecture, or administrative seat, of our département, le Loir et Cher. You might notice that Loir is spelled without a final "e." With it, it refers to the river and its valley that cross the middle of the département. Without it, Loir refers to an affluent (tributary) to the north. The Cher is another tributary to the south (where we live) Our département takes its name from those two tributaries of the larger river. Most of France's départements are named for the rivers that flow through them.

The woman taking a picture of her friend saw me taking a picture of her.

Rivers that flow into the sea are called fleuves. La Loire is a fleuve, as are la Seine and le Rhône. There are other fleuves, including France's shortest, la Veules in Normandy, at just over a kilometer long before it empties into the English Channel. As tributaries, le Loir and le Cher are called rivières.

I didn't intend to write about rivers today. It just ended up that way. I had to turn to the internet to find out the name of the shortest fleuve.

Tuesday, May 02, 2023

The deck is done

Well, almost. There's still one section of the edging missing. The mason is waiting for the part he ordered to arrive. The edging isn't visible in this photo.

Looking north. Our contractor refers to the "deck" as "une terrasse balcon" in French.

We started moving everything back out there yesterday. I got the grill back together (I partially disassembled it last fall so we could move it through the house and into the garage below) and we grilled our lunch. We may be grilling hamburgers today. They say we should expect sunny skies and a high of about 20ºC (68ºF) this afternoon. It ain't summer, yet, but it'll do!

Monday, May 01, 2023


Most of my seeds sprouted. They're mostly zucchini. Rest assured that most of them will be tossed. I'll plant two or three of the best looking seedlings. Now that Tasha's on a steady diet of grated zucchini mixed in with her wet food, we have another use for them. The musk pumpkins are up, too, but I had no luck with the red Etampes (old seeds). I stuck two more seeds into the dirt yesterday. I'd like one of each of the pumpkin varieties in the garden this year. Their roaming nature and broad leaves help to keep weeds down.

Seedlings in the greenhouse.

What's missing are tomatoes. I decided this year to buy tomato plants from a grower at one of the weekly outdoor markets nearby and see how that works. I'll plant bean seeds directly out in the garden plot in a couple of weeks, after frost danger is over.

Today is Labor Day. But it's also Deck Day for us. At long last, we'll be moving our outdoor furniture, some plants, and the BBQ grill out to the newly renovated deck today. I'll be grilling boudin noir (blood sausage) for lunch, if all goes according to plan.