Thursday, 8 December 2016

Crusty Substances

On the last fungi foray I went on we found a number of crust fungi. They are quite quirky so I thought I'd present them on the blog.

Netted Crust fungus Byssomerulius corium (Fr. Mérule papyrasée).
This pretty crust fungus is apparently found worldwide. The genus name 'byssomerulius' refers to its appearance resembling folds of fine silk. The specific name 'corium' means 'hide' and refers to the way it forms a skinlike covering on its host twig before forming small brackets.  The underside is covered in meandering ridges and holds the spores, the upperside is downy white. It is one of a group of fungi known as 'white rot'. This is not an edible fungus -- not because it is toxic, but because it is so leathery.

Split Porecrust fungus Schizopora paradoxa (Fr. Polypore étrange).
Thanks to Jean-Pierre Lafont for identifying this for me. This is another of the fungi known as 'white rot'. Apparently it's a very common species, but I've never encountered it before. It occurs in Europe and Africa. Both this species and the previous one are referred to by mycologists in their descriptions as 'resupinate' (which means upside down). It has angular, maze-like pores on the upper surface, rather than underneath like most fungi.

Hairy Curtain Crust Stereum hirsutum (Fr. Stérée hirsute).
Hairy Curtain Crust can vary quite a lot in colour. Like the Netted Crust above it is found all over the world. The genus name 'stereum' means 'tough', because they are so difficult to tear. The specific name 'hirsutum' means 'hairy' and when you look at them they are distinctly hirsute on their upper side.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

My Back Pages: Simon's T-Shirt Archive (10)

Not strictly a t-shirt, and definitely not rock and roll. This is a souvenir from July/August 2005.

Back then I was at a loose end: funding for the project I had been engaged on in London had dried up, and a Chinese friend (married to a Korean) I had met in London emailed to ask if I had considered teaching English in Korea at summer camp. It doesn't do to think too deeply about questions like that, so naturally I immediately said yes.

I really like Korea. I got on fabulously well with the food, the beer was cheap and plentiful (although you really want to be drinking "Cass" brand beer rather that "Hite", because Hite should have been taken as prescient rhyming slang). The people are friendly, especially when they find out you're English rather than the US citizens they are used to and can talk to you about football (or soccer, if you must), the scenery is amazing, the bookshops are huge, and there is always a new experience to be had.

One day I would like to return and spend some proper time touring as work was 9.00am to 4.00pm six days a week (not including lesson preparation time) which didn't leave very much time for exploring.


Loire Valley Nature: A photo of a flower infected by a fungus has been added to the entry on Soapwort Saponaria officinalis


Rehome a Dog: Our French teacher Dauphine has recently moved house. Unfortunately this means she must find a new home for her lovely young English Pointer. If you are interested in giving a loving home to a young gun dog please get in touch by email (via my profile on the right side bar) and I will put you in touch with Dauphine.


A la cuisine hier: Cream of potato and leek soup from the freezer.

Simon made scones which were rather good. We ate them with butter and homemade blackberry, apple and white currant jam.

Simon's sausage and bean casserole from the freezer.

I made apple crumble and served with leftover homemade custard.


Au jardin hier: I spent the afternoon weeding a row in the vegetable garden. The weather is mild (enough so that I wasn't wearing a coat) and the soil not too wet. I also dressed the row with ash and marked orchid leaf rosettes coming up in the grass. The resident wren scolded me from the compost bins and the resident buzzard glided over at low altitude. A variety of insects were enjoying the rotting apple peels in the compost. Whilst weeding I uncovered a large black beetle larva and an equally large green caterpillar.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Jean Linard, Artist

In September 2016 I went on an outing with the female members of our car club. We visited a number of places in the Sancerre area, including the Cathédrale de Jean Linard.

The artist Jean Linard lived most of his life in a sort of hobbit house that he built himself over the course of his life in an old flint quarry near Neuvy-Deux-Clochers in the département of Cher. It evolved and enlarged as he had ideas and was entirely constructed out of found and salvaged materials. He died in 2010 and his only surviving child couldn't afford to restore and keep the place. Fortunately a group of 'friends of Jean Linard' stepped in, formed a charity and bought the place. They are still in the process of deciding exactly how best to use the place.


A potter, sculptor, painter as well as a builder, he began what he called a chapel in 1983. Originally it was to have been a collaborative public art project in the nearby town of Sancerre, but he fell out with the town authorities and decided to go ahead with the project on his own land, just outside his studio. It soon spiralled into a church and then a cathedral. It became his master work and is what people come to see when they visit the property, but to be honest, I prefer the house and its quirky decorative elements.

The Cathedral.

He originally trained as an engraver and worked in Paris from 1945 to 1959. In that year he met the Danish potter Anne Kjaersgaard, who had arrived in the village of La Borne after having worked with Bernard Leach in Cornwall. La Borne was effectively an artists colony, where many studio potters had established homes and workshops. Jean bought the quarry and they married in the 1960s, moving in to the tiny cottage on the site and setting about enlarging the building to suit themselves. 

Everything you see in stone or clay has been created by Jean Linard.

He became a potter, turning bowls, plates, cups, pitchers, vases and goblets and creating his own glazes using ash from oak, straw and vines to produce creamy whites, pinks, celadon greens and blues. Over time he constructed several kilns, but eventually, wanting more control over the firing process he installed a gas kiln in 1976. Very particular, he loathed thick rims and liked to glaze the interiors of goblets but leave the exteriors unglazed. He liked the contrast between the glaze and the bare clay, and had a horror of identical sets.  Because he worked when an idea possessed him, he never took commissions.

Little creatures on the roof.

In the early 1960s he started producing some sculpture. These works were clay, but augmented with raku, cement, mosaic and iron. In the last 15 years of his life it was the sculpture that occupied most of his time.

The entrance to the gallery wing.

He was inspired by the nature and people around him. In 1974 he married for a third time, to Anne-Marie Guenin. She liked cats, and so cats joined the birds, especially owls, that he had been making for years. His daughter's dolls inspired a series of characters which became 'angels' and then there were 'teachers' and finally, monumental 'guardians'. Anne-Marie's brothers asked him one day why he didn't do cows, since there was a herd across the road, and another series of creatures was born.

The tile floors in the gallery were replaced twice by Linard.

He is very clearly in the tradition of the Facteur Cheval, la Maison Picassiette and the Catalan architect Gaudí, and was a big fan of all three, as well as Picasso.

A flight of steps in the gallery wing.

The cathedral, his most well known work, is an expression of his deep faith. He felt driven to start it and continue the project. Initially he made the tiles used in the mosaic, but very quickly he resorted to buying seconds from a big commercial tile manufacturer.


Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for White Mulberry Morus alba, introduced in the 15th century and now naturalised.


A la cuisine hier: Ricciarelli (Siena Almond Biscuits), like old-fashioned macaroons, made by pounding almonds and pine nuts to a meal, adding sugar, orange zest and stiffly beaten egg whites. The biscuits are formed using two spoons then rested before baking. Delicious and moreish.

Chicken noodle soup from the freezer.

Cod with lentils, broccoli, spinach, tomatoes, onions and chorizo, which somehow turned out a bit odd. We blame the chorizo, which was a different brand to the one I normally buy.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Three Very French Things

All three of these things were photographed at Chez Les Filles, a bar in the village of La Borne, near Henrichemont. La Borne is home to dozens of potters and ceramicists, and has been since the 12th century, due to extensive clay deposits in the area. I visited with friends on a Sunday in September, and this being France, none of the potter's studios were open, so we went to the pub.

These little oval cakes made in scallop shell moulds come out with their bases fluted and a bump on top. They were made famous by Proust and many French people genuinely adore them. They are not very sweet and rather plain. Do not under any circumstances eat them unless freshly homemade or artisanal. Ones from a packet you bought in the supermarket, even in France, will be such a pale shadow of what a madeleine should be that you really must not poison your mind or body with such a thing.

Zinc bar.
Bars in the old days were commonly covered in pewter, known in French as zinc (pronounced 'zaing'). 'Le P'tit Zinc' is quite a common name for a bar here. The zinc on this bar does not appear to be old, nor does it appear to be pewter (galvanised, ie zinc coated, steel is a common substitute these days), but it is beautifully done and creates a real sense of style. Zinc bars were made famous by Zola and later by Hemingway. In their day, a bar zinc was not an overly salubrious drinking spot. Apollinaire puts it thus: 'Tu es debout devant le zinc d'un bar crapuleux, Tu prends un café à deux sous parmi les malheureux' ('You are standing at the metal counter of some sleazy bar, Downing a coffee or two amongst the malcontents', from the poem Zone, translated by me, with a nod to Donald Revell). The metal countertop protects the wooden bar from spilled drinks, and it wipes clean without staining. Pewter is an alloy which contains varying quantities of several metals, such as tin, copper, lead and antimony. It is malleable so can be pressed into decorative moulded edges and around curves, and can be buffed to a silvery shine if you want a more upmarket look.  The stuff is also used on the exterior of buildings, as the flashing around slate roofs to ensure the angles between roof and masonry are sealed, to protect wooden or deteriorating stone windowsills and as smart decorative capping on gate pillars and the like.

A la turque toilet.
These squat toilets are slowly disappearing, but I know lots of places which still have them. They are a nuisance if you are wearing a skirt, wide legged trousers or don't bend as well as you used to. The floor of les toilettes à la turque are invariably wet as they always have ferocious flushes.


Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for the distinctive parasitic plant Dodder Cuscuta epithymum.

Sunday, 4 December 2016


The unsealed road in to Green Cape, with boneshaking corrugations which caused bits to fall off one of our group's vehicles. This is not the outback, but it is fairly isolated. Car rental companies in Australia generally have small print that invalidates your insurance if you go on such roads. 

Our posts on Sundays have an Australian theme. If you want to read more, click here.


A la cuisine hier: Simon's spicy dhal from the freezer, served with plain rice.

Slow roasted cheap tomatoes that were on their way out.

I made a curing mixture of salt, sugar, fennel seeds and dill weed, and rubbed two pieces of trout with it to make gravlax.

Chicken noodle soup from stock I'd made a few days ago, and bits of chicken from the carcasses the stock was made of. I added sweated tiny dice of carrots, celeriac and leeks, then parsley and vermicelli.

Pork loin chops, which I didn't season enough, so they were a bit dull, served with mashed potato.


Loire Valley Nature: A photo of mixed Beech and Sessile Oak woodland has been added to the entry on Forest and Woodland habitat.

A new entry has been added for the invasive alien Chufa Sedge Cyperus esculentus.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

The House With the Bell

This house with its rather extreme doorbell is in a side street just off the market place in Mézières-en-Brenne. Other than that I can't tell you anything else about it. I don't know who built it or when, or who lives in it now. At a guess I'd say it is a late 15th century house that was enlarged in the 17th century, restored in the late 19th century and again in the late 20th century. I'd love to know who JN was (or NJ, or maybe N&J).


A la cuisine hier: Split Pea Soup and savoury biscotti from the freezer. I thought the combination of the dry walnut, parmesan cheese and rosemary biscotti with the salty grainy soup was excellent. Simon wasn't so convinced, but I am definitely making these biscotti again, with hard dry goats cheese. I reckon that will work very well. The recipe is from Sally Schneider's 'A New Way to Cook', a book I bought when it was released and have loved ever since.

Chicken thighs with salt and Asian spices rub, oven roasted, along with diced potato and celeriac. Served with steamed broccoli. Followed by icecream and salted butter caramel sauce from the supermarket.

Weather Report: It's properly cold, with thick white frost on lawns, roofs and cars until lunchtime yesterday. It's been getting colder over the past few days, with heavier and heavier frost. Of course, the compensation is clear blue skies and bright sunshine during the day, and fantastic night skies if you are hardy enough.