You read that right - not fruits.
One of the bonuses of driving along the Routes Nationaux and Departmentales (apart from the self imposed diversions) are the eating places.
Whereas on the Autoroutes you get the roadhouse/service station standard fare, on the smaller roads you get a wide and varied choice - every option in fact, because because the roads often pass through towns, villages and hamlets.
There are other places to eat, and these are usually announced by a piece of cardboard/wood by the side of the road with the word "frites" handwritten on it. They are one man operations in a caravan, sometimes in an aire de repose (rest area) sometimes in a layby (or parking) right by the side of the road, or like this one, down a side track in the forest.
We stopped here on our way back from Nemours a couple of weeks ago. It was hot and we were in need of an icecream and it seemed the perfect place - shaded by big trees, and just far enough away from the road for the noise to be slightly muted. I had seen the "frites" sign the previous time we had been to Nemours, and remember seeing the caravan.
Why do the signs always seem to say "frites"? We have no idea why frites is the foodstuff by which the places first announce themselves, because they do slightly more complicated food as well - even pizza (probably from frozen), steack haché (ditto) and hamburgers.
For our first experience of this sort of dining we had just a drink and an ice cream. Next time we may be more adventurous.
Monday, 31 August 2009
You read that right - not fruits.
Sunday, 30 August 2009
My nuts are no good !
I've just started harvesting the billions of hazelnuts we have on our 6 noisetiers. On my way back from the orchard with a bucketful, I ran into one of our neighbours. She picked over the top layer of my hazels and pronounced virtually all of them pas bonne.
I asked her how I could tell which were good. Sometimes it's perfectly obvious - if they have a petit trou, then they've been weevilled and there won't be a useable nut inside. Mostly though I have no idea how she could tell. She was right every time we cracked one to see whether there was a nut inside or not, but the good shells look exactly like the bad ones. We discussed it a bit, but it seems she just knows and I will just have to learn by experience.
She tells me that it's been a bad year for hazels all over France. Her brother, who lives further north, has had the same problem, with many nuts being empty of kernels.
Apparently I must leave them to dry out for some weeks before tackling the task of cracking them. It's time consuming and surprisingly hard work, so if the resulting nut count is meagre it will be depressing.
A mixture of Williams and Beurre Hardy.
I've also picked almost all of the pears. It was that or lose them to a woodpecker (I think) who ruins them by pecking into and eating about a quarter of a pear, knocking them to the ground in the process. Every day for the past week or so I've found three or four pears in this state.
Saturday, 29 August 2009
the apse at the other end
Friday, 28 August 2009
The freezer arrived yesterday, so after letting it settle in we turned it on and loaded it with the fruit we have processed since taking over the potager/verger. All you can see in the following photo is fruit based (if you're being a pedant and calling tomatoes a fruit, which they are), or fruit and veg based (if you're normal). Somewhere in there are 10 dinners worth of Pasta sauce for two people, the rest is cherries, nectarines and plum based produce.
And talking of produce, this is what we picked yesterday:
Plums, pears, apples, nashi and tomatoes you can see easily. Below them are haricots verts, lettuce, chillies, aubergine, courgette, cornichon, hazelnuts and nectarines. When we got home I picked another 6 or 7 largish tomatoes from the front garden.
If we aren't careful we are in danger of eating healthily.
Thursday, 27 August 2009
Mangling language is not just one way traffic. For every occasion where I may have told someone that I am an aspidistra, or Susan tells someone she loves him (rather than his work) , the French manage to amuse us with their choice of words.
When you start a business, the business name is all important. It tells the world what you do and how you approach the job. In the UK, the most notorious businesses for punning shop names are Hairdressers - and in France things aren't that much different.
We would love to know, however, what message the following businesses thought they were giving:
Wednesday, 26 August 2009
Yesterday morning when I went out to the boulangerie I noticed some cute little caterpillars, curled up asleep after a hard night's chomping on one of my rose bushes. I haven't encountered this species before, but a little research on the net tells me they are probably Curled Rose Sawfly Allantus cinctus (Tenthrèdes du rosier) larvae, which means they are not caterpillars at all, but fausse-chenilles.
The 'false caterpillars' will transform into sawflies, a group of stingless flying insects related to wasps. Many sawflies are serious horticultural pests, and a colony of larvae can consume the host plant in days. My rose seems to only have three individuals, so for the time being they can stay and take their chances on being snapped up by a bird with a late brood of hungry youngsters.
PS The freezer did not arrive yesterday. We got a phone call to say that, malheureusement, it was not possible to make the delivery yesterday, and it would now be Thursday.
Tuesday, 25 August 2009
If sanding an old piece of wood, don't try to get all the paint off.
Really - it doesnt matter. Those shutters have seen many years of service and are proud of their battle scars. A patch or two of old paint underneath 4 coats of new stuff will make no difference.
Do remember to sand back between coats
Remind yourself you're not sanding the latest coat of paint off, just scratching the surface so the new paint can take hold.
Remember to dilute the paint.
When putting on the first coat of colour, put the paint in a container and add a splash of dilutant. It goes a lot further and is easier to use.
Don't keep sticking your hair in the paint.
It doesnt help. Even if you're leaning back to look at your work, rubbing your hair in the last bit you painted really doesn't help.
Paint towards yourself.
Remember the last time - and the time before that - when you painted window frames? You kept on grabbing the piece you had just painted so you could lean further out.
Don't get hung up on the odd brushmark.
The neighbours won't be climbing a ladder just to check how neat you are. Honest they won't
Don't put the lid of the tin on the floor.
Remember last time you trod on it? It wasn't fun then, either.
look like this
There are no prizes for who can lift the heaviest paintbrush. You ALWAYS put too much paint on the brush, and it always gains weight as you go.
Look at the clock
Don't start work too early - the paint wont spread. Don't paint in the full sun, either - the paint will go all tacky before you can get the next brushload on.
Look at the clock.
Don't keep "just" touching it to see if it's dry yet. It isn't.
Look at the clock.
It's probably time for a beer.
Monday, 24 August 2009
We have 3 plum trees and 4 Nectarine trees in the verger.
The fruit on two of the nectarine trees ripened quite early - about 4 weeks ago. The fruit was large, extra tasty and extra sweet, but the small tree in the potager doubly so. We can't comment on the other trees; the big tree (which we commented on here) has suffered badly in the drought, and most of its fruit have stopped developing at the "hard as bullets" stage and gone on to the "shrivelled and falling off" stage. There are some fruit worth picking, and they're not bad at all. The last of the nectarine trees has only 3 fruit and is suffering likewise.
The plum trees have been a revelation - the yellow plums are Ste Catherine and never looked like ripening until the day, all of a sudden, when they were begging to be picked. They are quite small, and incredibly sweet and juicy, if not particularly tasty. The others are "prunier abrico rouge", a very large plum with red/purple skin and bright yellow flesh, and they are super tasty.
ps 2-1 eh... whooda thunk it
Sunday, 23 August 2009
After the disappointment the last time we went to Nemours, we received an email from the garage we visited, apologising for the typo in their original email. We arranged to visit last Monday, ringing them up just to confirm they would be open.
Because we had other business to do the same day we made an early start of it, and because this time we were not quite so precious about avoiding toll roads it meant the complete round trip took us 12 hours. The route is quite a good one, going through some pretty towns and crossing some of the big rivers, including the Loire. All up we spent 12 euros on tolls, and saved ourselves about an hour driving
Nemours is a really pretty town, we assume fashionably close to Paris and in the Paris transport system, but without the Paris prices in the restaurants. We had a really pleasant lunch - steak and dessert - for 12 euros each, sitting outside a restaurant across from the church.
Saturday, 22 August 2009
A potager in Preuilly is not self-consciously designed to be a decorative garden with some vegetable produce as an almost incidental bonus. A potager is simply a vegetable garden, but for all that they have a certain style. Plants are laid out in neatly tended rows. Flowers and fruit are almost always included, and the whole effect is pleasing to the eye, and a reflection of the diligent attention they get. They always give the impression the owner is feeding a family of about 20 with the quantity that is planted, but I think many people put in enough so that if they have some failures it's not a disaster, and everyone is very generous with offering their produce if they have surplus. At the moment, we are offering plums to everyone. The other day in return for some plums and beans I received about 20 little strawberry plants. No one can give away their zucchini (courgettes) though, as everyone has surplus, even with this dry weather.
Yesterday morning I went down and photographed our neighbour Monsieur Q's potager, which is an exemplar of the working French vegetable plot. Monsieur Q often stops for a chat on his way past our house, and he inspects our potted tomatoes and peppers in the courtyard and tells me about the progress of his tomatoes. He's had several this year that have been just under a kilo! And he tells me he has not fertilized at all. (Naturally, he is not the slightest bit interested in the merely ornamental plants that make up the bulk of the garden in the courtyard, except to tell me that the Contorted Hazel looks diseased.)
I also noticed eggshells on the tops of canes amongst the carrots. I had assumed this was protection against being stabbed in the eye when you bent over the carrots, but I don't know why only the carrots have eggshelled canes, or indeed, why there are canes in the carrot rows at all. It seems unlikely that it is a deterrent for carrot fly.
Friday, 21 August 2009
Icecream is a favourite summer dessert in France, but even so, the French can't compete with the consumption levels of some other countries. More icecream is consumed in northern Europe than around the Mediterranean (with the exception of Italy). The biggest consumers in Europe are the Finns, at 13.3 litres per person per year. The biggest consumers in the world are the Americans, getting through an average of 0.5 litres per week per person. France comes in at 6 litres per person per year. France's very moderate performance in the icecream consumption stakes must be because two modestly sized scoops are considered a serving here, and icecream is a summer treat. Anyone seen eating icecream in the winter in France is clearly a tourist.
As well as the industrially produced icecream available in the supermarkets, there are many small companies and individuals making glaces artisanales. The main difference between an industrial product and an artisan product comes with the quality of the raw materials. An artisanal icecream is made from fresh whole milk, organic eggs and local fruit picked at optimal maturity. Another difference is in the way they are made, especially in the amount of air incorporated into the mix. Industrial icecreams have a lot of air in order to add volume.
- Glace – contains water, milk proteins and fats.
- Sorbet – a mixture of water, sugar and at least 25% fruit.
- Crème glacée – made from milk, crème fraîche (cultured fresh cream) and sugar.
The most famous glacier - sorbetière in France is Berthillon, based on the Ile de Saint Louis in Paris, but there are many other excellent artisan producers. David Lebovitz has a useful list of the Paris based ones here.
*Photograph taken at l'Image in Preuilly. Les glaces are the one thing on the menu that is not made in house here, which is perhaps a measure of how specialised a skill it is seen to be. Note that it is not seen as necessary to bulk the dish up with disgusting squirty cream or cheap syrupy topping.
Thursday, 20 August 2009
Between Montargis and Châtillon-Coligny there is a really impressive Roman theatre (I have marked it here). We drove past in on one of our expeditions looking at cars.
Every time we go out in the car we see signs pointing to really interesting things we never knew existed. In a way, this is a bonus: we wouldn't travel 300km just to see this Roman amphitheatre, but having it appear out of the blue provides an opportunity to stop the car and have a little walk. If it isn't Roman remains or an abbey it's a prehistoric monument or interesting and unusual church.
besides it being on lists of Roman Theatres. There is some
information on notice boards besides the (locked) gate
Wednesday, 19 August 2009
We have been talking about how dry it is: yesterday we went to our favorite lookout point and took some photos for our new banner. Add the dryness to the fact all the crops are now off, and you can really see a difference:
19 August 2009
19 June 2009
2009 has not only been the hottest summer since we have owned the house in Preuilly, it has been by far and away the driest, too. Today once again it was over 30°C, and once again it is thought it might rain the day after tomorrow. This has been the forecast for the last two weeks - dry and hot tomorrow, rain the day after. They've been right about tomorrow - but the day after tomorrow never comes and we just get tomorrow again. Today and tomorrow the forecast is for 34°, Friday's forecast is for cooler with a chance of rain.
This means we are still carrying water down to the garden. Of course, we can never carry enough water to the garden to water properly, but we are amazed that the plants are hanging on in there, even if they aren't growing. The leeks are looking as if they might last, but at some stage we will have to water them even though so far we have managed to avoid it. The beans are having a hiatus, but have lots of little pods - we assume waiting for the rain before they overwhelm us. We hope so anyway, though at the moment the overwhelming is being done by plums and we have nowhere to store them: the freezer is full, the fridge is full, and the second small bar fridge is full as well.
We have had a freeezer on order since the end of last month and are expecting it sometime this week - or maybe next week. This will really allow us to make the most of our produce, and also to take advantage of any specials and bulk buys at the market and supermarkets. We debated if buying and running a freezer is economically worthwhile, but freezers have come a long way since we last had one, and the new freezer will use less than one unit of electricity a day making for an increase in the electricity bill of about 25€ a year. If we can make the most of our garden produce we should get a net saving in money terms - and a net increase in our confidence in the freshness and quality of the food we are eating.
Tuesday, 18 August 2009
Susan and I have often joked about becoming vergetarians, but even in the unlikely event of that happening I doubt if we will ever do this, even though it is the authentic French way of gaining extra protein.
Monday, 17 August 2009
A short movie, just to show how many Traction Avants were on display at EuroCitro 2009. We were surprised to see a whole carpark full of cars in all conditions from regularly used and unrestored with a spot of rust, to pristine concours condition.
In other news: It still hasn't rained since last time (10 days, nary a drop), I have made progress painting stuff around the house, and the courgette plants have gone barmy. The stream near the garden is totally dry, but the plum tree is producing fruit like fury. It was 29°C at 9.00 last night, which is well over 80° in the old money.
Sunday, 16 August 2009
When I was a boy, one of my favorite books was "Speed Six" by Bruce Carter, about a bunch of chaps (there is no other word for them) who take a 1930s Bentley to Le Mans in the 1960s - and blow me down, they win!!!
Anyway I digress.
Yesterday I drove down Mulsanne Straight. I will repeat that, because it is essential you realise how important it is.
I drove down Mulsanne Straight.
In my Renault Megane Scenic at 90kmh, I have to admit, but I did drive down Mulsanne straight. It isn't called that any more, but in my mind.. (you get the picture)
We have hundreds of photos of Citroëns, and we have just shown a random collection here. We are both extremely tired but it doesn't matter.
Saturday, 15 August 2009
Ratatouille (pronounced rhuh-tuh-too-ee) is the quintessential southern French late summer vegetable stew. It uses all the vegetables that one hopefully has a glut of by the end of August – aubergines (eggplant), zucchini (courgettes), onions, sweet peppers (capsicum) and tomatoes (pronounced tom-AH-tohz, I think you'll find...) and seasoned with garlic and basil. Simon eats almost nothing else when he is on his own in September.
There are lots of fussy recipes which instruct you to cook all of the vegetables separately and only mingle them at the end. Who can be bothered washing up 4 saucepans instead of just one, for goodness sake! The trick is to cut the vegetables into big chunks eg the aubergines should be quartered lengthwise and cut into 2 cm slices crosswise; the peppers into 4-5 cm squares; the zucchini into 3 cm crosswise slices. That way they will all retain their individuality and not turn into pulp.
Friday, 14 August 2009
Ken posted a comment yesterday asking about the difference between UK and French paint, saying that he had heard that paint sold in the UK is much higher quality. I have heard and read the same thing said.
You see paint being sold in all sorts of places in the UK; from cheap paint in supermarkets, to boutiques purveying the expensive (and too trendy for my tastes, no matter how good it is) Farrow and Ball paints, and a whole range in between. I would hazard a guess that Tesco's home brand paint isn't terribly high quality and isn't the paint the people Ken refers to are talking about.
It is still as good as new.
At 8.00am the paint was so thick it would hardly come out of the can.
Ot it could be the NAGAB syndrome at play...
Thursday, 13 August 2009
Yesterday's blog had a photo of Susan painting the wall of our guest bedroom. This was so successful that we have decided to paint the main bedroom as well: these are only temporary measures because the rooms need insulating and panelling, but it will make the rooms nicer to use in the meantime.
The paint we are using for the plaster walls is Brico-Depot super cheap acrylic matt white paint, €5.65 for 10 litres. The effect is startling - a nice chalky pure white finish where before we had stains left by mould. Interestingly, the mold was under the wallpaper and only grew where the background colour was, leaving us with a stain in the fern leaf pattern of whatever wallpaper was up when the roof in that room was leaking.
now we have bought a bootload of paint.
That was a much more successful expedition - we bought another 10 litres of super cheapo so we can do the main bedroom, 2.5 litres of microporus undercoat for the shutters, 6 litres of polyurethane for the staircase and 2.5litres of tinted just for us blue-grey for the shutters. Total damage? Just over €120.
That still is a bit of a shock, but a lot better that €112 for 2.5 litres!
On the way back we had lunch on the terrace at Le Relais du Clain, a bar-restaurant in Beaumont on the D910 and had a huge salad and dessert and a small pitcher of charentais rosé. As we have come to expect from this kind of place, the service was friendly, the food was well prepared and imaginative - and it was all very reasonably price, at €27 for two people.
my new échafaudage to paint
After dinner we walked to the orchard and did some picking - a couple of kilos of plums, assorted tomatoes, beans and courgettes, and best of all - my hot chilies are turning red.
All in all, not a bad day - even if I did spend money
Wednesday, 12 August 2009
Well, now we've covered les politesses in previous posts, let's move on the the real reason it's fun to learn a foreign language. It's because you want to know the rude words, bien sûr. The first rude word that everyone learns in French is merde. It's so well-known that you probably encountered in your High School French textbook, and disappointingly, it's just not that rude in France. Everybody, including our 90+ year old neighbour uses it (when she drops her walking stick), although nicely brought up people do disapprove of its indiscriminate use in every conversation.
neighbour Pierre-Yves would say
Zut ! and zut alors ! are exclamations I learnt in school French lessons. They were in the text books, so I assumed they must be seriously uncool and no one really used them, even 30 years ago. But I had a conversation with our stone mason recently that went:
Stone Mason: Nous avons besoin du dictionnaire !
Me: Bah oui, mais je l'ai oublié...
Stone Mason: Zut !
If you are worried that merde and zut might be too impolite for the company you are in, but you need an expletive, you can use mince ! (pronounced more like 'manse'). It actually means 'slender', but can be used the same way that in English one substitutes 'sugar' for a 'harder' word.
Tuesday, 11 August 2009
How does your garden grow?
In the drought you mean?
I paint them green,
fot that year round verdant show
Thanks to Simon, whose creative genius supplied the poem
Grateful thanks to Ken and Sylvie L for the succulents
Monday, 10 August 2009
Our house came with an assortment of shutters. One is metal, the others are oak with a fixed louvre arrangement in pine so they admit a breeze and a little light (many people have their windows open, but the shutters closed in hot or humid weather). Some of them fold back on themselves to sit inside the window surround, some of them fold back to sit flat against the wall either side of the window and we get to use the charming 19th century metal ladies who fold up to hold the shutters in place.
The wooden ones are tatty and falling apart and in desperate need of painting. We have guests arriving in September, and we want to paint the guest bedroom to make it more pleasant for them. Painting the walls makes more sense if you paint the internal window frames as well, and as they're attached to the window frame outside which are attached to the shutters.. it makes sense to do the whole lot.
Adrian escaping during the "Big Bath Incident of 2008"
which is bungee corded(ocky strapped) to a sawhorse.
Note the absence of carpet slippers and the
presence of the AGI T-shirt - this is serious stuff.
It is nasty dusty work, with some health risks due to the lead in the paint (which can be mitigated somewhat by damping everything down). On top of that, Simon has bursitis in his left elbow at the moment and holding anything or just moving his arm is painful. As it happens, I have bursitis in my right elbow, so he needn't worry that I'm having any more fun than he is.
the gaps at the ends of the slats filled up.