Tuesday, 31 December 2013

La Boucherie

 The local butcher is Thierry Boutault. That's him in the photo above, prepping pork chops for me. His shop is in the Grande rue, Preuilly sur Claise. I like him and his carefully sourced local meat and shop there often. He is usually prepared to have a chat about more than just the weather and it's good French practice for me. It's rare to go in there and be the only customer, so I also enjoy eavesdropping on others' conversations with him, how they order and what they order.
A range of meat on display above. The two cuts closest to the camera are 'part leg of lamb for grilling or roasting' and 'boned rolled roast pork'.

Monday, 30 December 2013

Touraine Vernacular Buildings Terminology Part III

Part I is here.
Part II is here.

Construction materials:
There is a strong correlation between the architecture and the geological composition of the earth from which the construction materials are extracted. The Loire Valley is in a zone of alluvial sandy clay that has been carried by the Loire and its tributaries from the Massif Central on to the limestone foundation which has been gouged out by the river. Slowly but surely the river meandered through the region, covering and mixing different soils and thereby creating the diversity of materials used in construction. The quality of the subsoil in the Loire Valley affects the underground water, the agricultural and industrial resources and as a consequence, the way of life and dwellings. By using the materials nearby and using the river for their transportation, the buildings sink harmoniously into the landscape and environment.

To ensure the consistency of all the built elements you should use the original materials, treatments and colours when renovating.

Bandeau d'encadrement. 
 Door surround -- an ornamental frame to the door opening.
Une porte charretière.
A courtyard door. Note the small pedestrian door (une porte piétonne) embedded in the bigger door.
The notice on this door says 'Sortie de brouette' ('Wheelbarrow exit').
Une porte d'entrée de vantail vitré.
A half-glazed front door. This one has a transom (une imposte vitrée) above the door as well.
Une porte fermière.
A farmhouse door (strictly speaking, this isn't a farmhouse door, it was a shop door, but the principle is the same.) The top and bottom halves of the door can open separately or be locked together to operate as one door. These were usually farm kitchen doors and the idea was to keep barnyard animals out of the house, whilst being able to ventilate the kitchen by opening the top half of the door. Typically the shutters only cover the top half of the door, which was often glazed, while the bottom was solid. This former shop door has extra windows to the side and a modern roller shutter.
Le Soubassement.
The foundations (2-3 courses of harder stone at ground level, below which are the cellars and which support the walls of the house above, protecting them from damp and erosion).
La travée.
The span (between bays or piers above ground, vaults below).
Typically this is between 3.8 and 4.2 metres.
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Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for the Glass-winged Syrphus Hover Fly Syrphus vitripennis.
A section on the Tapered Drone Fly Eristalis pertinax has been added to the Drone Flies Eristalis spp entry.
Sections on the unusual blow fly Stomorhina lunata and one of the most familar of all blow flies, the Urban Bluebottle Calliphora vicina, have been added to the Blow Flies Calliphoridae entry.
A new photo has been added to the Scarce Swallowtail Iphiclides podalirius entry.
A section on Pales pavida has been added to the Parasitic Flies Tachinidae entry.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

At the Carwash

When we returned Jonathan and Rosy's Mercedes 4WD to them this time last year we figured it would be polite to clean it first, so we took it to the carwash. 





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A la cuisine hier: Guinea fowl and rabbit soup aka post-Christmas fridge soup. The Christmas leftovers have been minestroned (or possibly garbured). 

Simon made a big loaf of extremely good seedy bread.

Barnsley chops, which are lamb loin chops cut in mirrored pairs ie the spine is not cut lengthways. In French they are côtes d'agneau filet.
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Weather News: It is remarkably mild here. We didn't light the fire until mid-afternoon on Friday and not until dinner time on Saturday. It has been rather wet the last couple of days though, with standing water back in the fields and all the ditches full.
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Loire Valley Nature: A new entry for Winter Heliotrope Petasites fragrans has been added.
A new entry called Resources has been created to list publications and organisations that can help if you want to learn about wildlife in the Touraine Loire Valley.
A photo has been added to the Marbled White butterfly Melanargia galathea entry.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

Oversize / Convoi agricole

Doesn't matter if you are in France or Australia, if you are driving on rural roads during summer, you will encounter harvest vehicles on the road. In France harvesters are labelled convoi agricole on the road, in Australia 'oversize', and in both countries they have to have an escort vehicle out the front.
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Loire Valley Nature: Prompted by a question from Tim I have added photos of wing venation to the Bee Flies Bombyliidae entry and the Hornet Mimic Hover Fly Volucella zonaria entry to show the differences.
A new entry has been added for Plovers Charadriidae.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Touraine Vernacular Buildings Terminology Part II

Part I is here.

'Associated with the Loire, the ancient architectural heritage is a constituent element of the Touraine (Loire Valley) identity. It merits particular attention in its treatment, and that of its surrounds, both built and vegetative.'
Une baie secondaire.
A secondary bay -- a small opening, usually a 4 paned window.
Une fenêtre.
A window.
Windows are typically a pair of casements (deux vantaux) which open inwards (à la française).
They should have the following dimensions:
90 x 135 cm (6 panes, like this one).
100 x 145 cm (8 panes).
110 x 160 cm (10 panes).
This one has shutters (volets) in a 19th century louvred style known as persiennés.
Une lucarne engagée dans le mur.
A wall dormer (set so that the front continues the plane of the wall and the bottom breaks the line of the cornice). This one is hip-roofed.
Les lucarnes sur versant.
Dormers (these are hip-roofed).
Les montants.
Jambs (the frame that holds the window or door).
Un oculus.
An oculus window.
They should be 40 x 50 cm.
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Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for Whorled Caraway Carum verticillatum.
A new entry has been added for Breckland Thyme Thymus serpyllum.
Photos of the all important seeds have been added to the Pepper-saxifrage Silaum silaus entry.
Photos have been added to the Bee Flies Bombyliidae entry. 
A photo has been added to the Adonis Blue butterfly Polyommatus bellargus entry. 
A photo has been added to the entry on hunting. 
A new entry has been added for Brown Hare Lepus europaeus. 
A new entry has been added for Rustyback fern Ceterach officinarum. 

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Renovating the Pantry

Over the past few weeks Simon has been hard at work renovating our pantry. The picture below shows you what he started with.
The original intention had just been to block off the window as a temporary measure and mouseproof the room. The window is in poor condition and lets in a lot of both heat and cold, but we didn't want to have to spend the money replacing it just yet. He's created a false wall with insulation behind and lined the recess with plasterboard. It now makes a handy nook for boxes of wine.
The pantry is in the oldest part of the building and was the old grain merchant's office. When we bought the place we gave it a quick lick of cream paint to freshen it up a bit and it served initially as our bedroom, then as the temporary kitchen. The only real renovation work that was done on it was putting up plasterboard on the ceiling, with a layer of fibreglass insulation above, and doing the electrics. Once the proper kitchen was installed it became the pantry.

This autumn for the first time we started getting mice and we couldn't keep them out, so we took everything out with a view to blocking up all the holes. It was clear that the mice could come in under the walls just about anywhere. There are no foundations and the vide sanitaire under the granary is higher than the floor level of the pantry. Simon decided to initially block the holes with expanding foam, then dry line the room with plasterboard. He's never really done this on his own, so just hoped he had learnt enough by watching Stéphane and Patrick to make a success of it. He needn't have worried. With fairly minimal swearing he has managed a perfectly competant job of putting the plasterboard up and plastering the joints then the hateful job of sanding. I'm very proud of him.

The original terracotta tiles are laid directly on the earth, with no grouting. We didn't want to lift them, but they weren't terribly hygenic looking so Simon washed them with a Starwax detergent that was suitable, then I gave them a couple of coats of Sarpasol to revive them and help repel dirt. He's finished the room by installing the lights and repositioning the powerpoints and painting it a subtle duck egg colour.
He was determined to get it finished by Christmas, and on 23 December he installed new shelving and we reinstated everything. The freezer, which so far has lived in the kitchen still needs to be moved and he has one or two ideas for improving the initial arrangement of storage, but essentially it's finished.
In total we spent about €120 of 'new money' on the renovation, relying mostly on using up stocks that we already had of plasterboard, storage units and other hardware.
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Au potager hier: The first few spring onions are showing through the earth and a garlic.
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Mobile Phones: Simon treated us both to new mobile phones for Christmas, using some money from his birthday present. They are dual SIM phones and our idea is to continue using our current Virgin UK pay as you go numbers on one of the SIMs and buy a second SIM which will give us a French number.  We don't use the phones much at all - even allowing for roaming charges Simon's mobile phone bill can be as much as 30 pence a month - so it isn't as if we need an "all you can eat" plan. Now we have the task of wading through all the deals on offer and try to make sense of which ones are the least worst for us. We don't need to be able to make international calls on the French SIM, it's mainly for incoming calls and some texting.

For our sort of usage, most French mobile phone deals appear to be a complete rip off. If you don't use your credit with PAYG within the specified time period, the telecomms provider pockets the balance. It's a delicate juggling act to spend the least amount possible that is valid for the longest possible time. So far, the smallest block of credit top up we can find is €5, and the longest credit remains valid without top up is 6 months. Needless to say, these two offers are not from the same company, and we would not use €5 worth of credit in the measly amount of time the phone company allows. The bigger the block of credit one buys the lower the cost per unit of calls and the longer the credit remains valid. Prices for calls out vary between 5c and 35c per minute. Texts are around 5-7c. Calls in are free. After some research, the LeClerc Formule Mini+ package looks OK and we are also considering SIM+ and NFR.

If anyone has experience of buying a simple basic mobile phone package in France and has some hints for getting the best deal, please let us know.
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Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for Social Wasps Vespidae.

Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Merry Christmas

 The 2012 Christmas tree in Martin Place, Sydney.

And I would like to pass on a link to my favourite of all last year's Christmas blog posts. Frankly, I just want to kiss Alex Wild for being out and proud about being an entomologist, and brave enough not to pussyfoot around wilfully ill-informed melodramatists, even on Christmas Day. I know it doesn't fall within the accepted limits of the Christmas spirit, but by heck it needed to be said!
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Weather News: Since Monday evening we've been buffeted by Tempête Dirk. The wind is strong and gusty, but not causing any serious damage. The town Christmas tree took a bit of a beating and there were bits of tree and decorations strewn around on Tuesday morning.
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Loire Valley Nature: Photos have been added to the Violet Carpenter Bee Xylocopa violacea entry.
A new entry has been added for the Hornet Mimic Hover Fly Volucella zonaria.
A new entry has been added for the European Wall Lizard Podarcis muralis.
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A la cuisine hier: Chilli con carne, made with chunks of stewing beef slow cooked for the whole afternoon on the wood stove.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Touraine Vernacular Buildings Terminology Part I

Part II is here.

Jacques Guionnet from the Fondation du Patrimoine gave me a booklet on Touraine vernacular buildings when I met him on his visit to the Chapelle de Tous les Saints. I thought it would be interesting to translate some of it and illustrate it with our own photos of local buildings, showing features that are considered typical, traditional and authentique for the Touraine.

I'm going to start with some vocabulary and split it into several posts. Feel free to chip in with the correct equivalent architectural terms in English, as there are many I am not sure of.

'Nowadays we are quite sensitive to what might be considered the built heritage, but it requires more than just awareness to actively rehabilitate a building. In order to best preserve the particularities of an area, we should create a restoration programme that sits in continuity with what has been built over the course of the preceding centuries.'

 
 Chaînage d'angle.
Quoins -- the stone blocks on the corner are bonded (interlock) to prevent the two walls separating.
La corniche.
The cornice -- the mouldings that project under the roof eaves and deflect rainwater away, to prevent it from running down the walls.
Faîtage à crête et embarrures.
Crested roof ridge -- the mortar joining the roof saddle tiles together is shaped into decorative crests.
La rive.
The drip edge -- the edge of the roof which extends over the gable.
 La souche de cheminée.
The chimneystack.
Single flue chimneystacks should measure 44 x 88 cm.
Double flue chimneystacks should measure 55 x 100 cm.
(Height is dependent on where the chimney is placed.)
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Loire Valley Nature: Photographs have been added to the Parasitic Flies Tachinidae entry.
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A la cuisine hier: Bread and Butter Pudding made with panettone and extra dried fruit.

Monday, 23 December 2013

The Last Market Day Before Christmas

Saturday was the last market day in Loches before Christmas. I took a few pictures to try and give a sense of market shopping, but to be honest, it isn't easy to take photos and shop at the same time.

Standing in line at the cheese stall. Note the pair in the background exchanging the standard cheek kisses in greeting. The cheese stall had twice as many staff as usual and there was still a queue, so they were doing good business.
 This stall belongs to the farm who have the vegetable vending machine at Villandry.
 Citrus is a big seller at Christmas time. This is when you are most likely to see it with leaves still attached. I'm not sure what the leaves signify -- freshness? hand picked? the contrast of the green leaves and the orange fruit just looks pretty?
 This is a hole-in-the-wall poultry seller. They are organic and only open on market days. The 'shop' is at most 2 metres from front to back and what you see is all there is. They are all about quality and not quantity.
 The lettuces that are responsible for us living where we do. Simon was so taken by the lettuce display on this stall when he first encountered it back in 2006 that he announced that we had to live within reach of this market (and he doesn't even like lettuce). This stall also had extra staff and was dealing with the queue very quickly and efficiently. They are market gardeners from just across the river in Beaulieu-lès-Loches.
 Italian cuisine is just about the only other style of cooking that the traditional and conservative French are willing to eat on a regular basis. This stall sells excellent fresh pasta and a few other Italian staples.
 The apiarist I buy from regularly, stoically enduring the cold.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Bale that Water

Hay bales deployed in the roadside ditch on the Lachlan Way, central New South Wales. They are pegged in place with wooden stakes so during heavy rain the force of the stormwater is slowed without budging the bales. The idea is that the bales act as a silt filter, and it is probably a measure to ensure the road isn't undercut by erosion. In really heavy rain though, the water will simply go around, and the erosion is worse. These don't appear to have been installed according to the guidelines produced by the relevant local authority, Cowra Regional Council. My guess is that these have been illegally installed by the adjacent farmer, or intended as very temporary measures in an emergency that has passed and the hay bales forgotten. Hay bales for stormwater management are not considered best practice these days, as they are almost never set up properly, but of course, they are cheap and readily available.

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Au marché hier: Grey oyster mushrooms; a jar each of buckwheat (€6) and summer flower (€4.80) honey; a wedge each of Brie de Melun (€20.95/kg) and Roquefort (€29.95/kg) cheese; fresh potato gnocchi and a pannetone (€8.45); 200 g spinach (60c), a cauliflower (€2.50) and a celeriac (€2.49); a new Persian style carpet for the back of Célestine.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Superb Fairywren

The Superb Fairywren Malurus cyaneus is known to all Australians living in the relatively cooler and wetter parts of the eastern and southern states (and usually referred to as the Blue Wren). It is common in gardens and the bush, living in territorial family groups that raise young co-operatively. This one is the strikingly coloured male, still in his irridescent pulling gear in the early summer, who gives the species its vernacular name. The females and young are brown.

 They are insectivorous, hunting in grass and low bushes.

They are not related to European wrens, but are part of a uniquely Australasian family of birds. They are tiny, weighing about 10g, but with a 6cm tail. They are one of the winners in the increasing urbanisation of the east coast of Australia.
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A la cuisine hier: Croissants aux amandes et chocolat. Just add some cocoa powder to two-thirds of the almond mixture and use that inside the croissants. Use the plain on the top so that the almond flakes stick.
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Yesterday's Village Excitement: A semi-trailer broke down with his brakes locked on in front of the charcuterie in the Grande rue in Preuilly. The police had to redirect traffic for much of the morning.

Friday, 20 December 2013

The Christmas Caterpillar

In France, like so many countries with a Christian tradition, there is a cake which is particularly associated with Christmas. It's called a buche de Noël ('Christmas log') and the cake is a representation of the Yule log in sponge, ganache and buttercream. I decided to make one but, I'm somewhat embarrassed to report, I got a bit sidetracked, a bit carried away (and not in a good way). Instead of a log, we've ended up with a chenille de Noël. Tasteful and sophisticated it is not. But it is tasty and sugary and that's what really matters.

Eggs and sugar, beaten until thick and creamy.
Ingredients

For the Genoese sponge:
4 eggs
125 g castor sugar
75 g plain flour
Pinch salt

The sponge in the oven, nearly done.
For the orange cream filling:
150 g cream cheese
1 tbsp icing sugar
4 tbsp citrus flavoured syrup (I had some left over from another recipe). You could use a citrus flavoured liqueur instead.
2 tbsp preserved orange peel, chopped. You could substitute fine shreds of orange zest.

 The cake has been drizzled and the cream cheese beaten.
For the chocolate buttercream:
250 g butter, at room temperature
2½ cups icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
125 g very dark chocolate, melted

 Rolling the sponge.
Method
Sponge cake:
  1. Preheat the oven to 170°C and line a shallow baking tray with baking paper.
  2. Beat the eggs and sugar together for 10 minutes with the wire whisk attachment on a stand mixer (beat for longer if using electric hand held beaters or a 'manual' balloon whisk).
  3. Sift flour and salt into a small bowl, then sift again into the egg and sugar mixture.
  4. Fold the flour into the mixture by hand.
  5. Pour the batter into the prepared baking tray and gently spread out evenly. It should be about 1.5 cm thick.
  6. Bake for 10 - 15 minutes.
  7. Carefully lift the sponge out of the tray by the paper lining and lay on a damp tea towel. Cover with a dry tea towel and leave until cool. Optional - once cool you can neaten it by cutting off the crispy edges (which are the cook's or the kid's treat).
Filling:

  1. Beat together the cream cheese, icing sugar, orange peel and half the syrup.
  2. Sprinkle the cake with the remaining syrup.
  3. Spread the cream cheese mixture over the cake.
  4. Carefully start peeling the cake from the paper and rolling it up. Once rolled put it on a serving platter.
Frosting:
  1. Beat the butter with the wire whisk attachment of your stand mixer on medium-high for 5 minutes.
  2. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the icing sugar.
  3. Increase the speed again and add the vanilla, then the chocolate. Beat for 2 minutes.
  4. Spread all over the rolled log cake. (This is more frosting than you will need, so freeze the excess.)
  5. Score the frosting decoratively with a fork, to imitate the bark on a log of wood. (Alternatively, score with a knife to make body segments and stud with orange peel for eyes and markings if you want a caterpillar.)
Don't laugh!
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A la cuisine hier: A salad that started off as Tabbouleh, but ended up being something more like an Israeli Chopped Salad, as I added more and more chopped veg to it.
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Car News: The Scenic passed its emissions test and has now been issued with a new contrôle technique (roadworthy) sticker. Hurrah!
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At the Supermarket: 1 kg bags of sultanas! At La Roche Posay SuperU -- a reflection of how many Brits live in the area perhaps? They were €5.23 each and I bought two bags. I'll be interested to see if they become a regular item on the shelves. One of my minor frustrations with French supermarkets is the small size of packets of sultanas.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Botany of a Limestone Ridge

As promised back in the early summer, here are some more photos from a wonderful botany outing to a limestone ridge near Panzoult.

A wee plant of the rare and protected Annual Woundwort Stachys annua is surrounded by botanists before it can make a run for it.
 Crested Cow-wheat Melampyrium cristata, an uncommon plant, restricted to limestone grassland.
 Ground-pine Ajuga chamaepitys, rare and restricted to bare patches on dry limestone sites.
 Peach-leafed Bellflower Campanula persicifolia, rare and protected in the wild although widely planted in gardens.
 Violet Limadore Limadorus abortivum, a parasitic orchid.
 Wild Liquorice Astragalus glycyphycollos (also known as Milk-vetch), which tastes of liquorice.
 Yellow Woundwort Stachys recta, another lover of dry calcareous soil.
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My Birthday: Yesterday was my 54th birthday. Simon gave me a Sony e-reader and has been busy loading and organising hundreds of books on to it for me (and him) to read. I'm off to Australia in a month's time and will take it with me rather than raid Niall and Antoinette's library as originally planned. It will save a lot of weight and space. Any suggestions for books in French that I might like would be welcome.

Simon's parent's very kindly gave me some money which Simon used to take me to lunch. We went to Le Petit Tonneau in Montlouis sur Loire, where we had a very nice meal in a friendly atmosphere. All the staff, including the chef and the owner appear to be women. I managed to entertain our waitress by asking for a glass of Vouvray. On est à Montlouis alors...oops. I sheepishly changed my order and we all had a laugh. The salads on the buffet starter were so fresh they were nearly luminous the colours were so bright. I had steak with shallot sauce and chips made in-house. Simon had chicken. My steak, which was not an expensive cut, was done to perfection. It's always a good test of a restaurant to have steak, especially in France. It's one of those dishes that seems easy, but is often not up to par. Desserts were also maison, and I had chocolate pear tart, Simon had apple and raspberry crumble tart. Both were excellent.