Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Cheesy Chardy Tractors

Not far from us, near Chatellerault, there is a wheat farm. The couple who run the farm make pasta out of their wheat, which I buy often. It is excellent. I especially like the tractor shape, which is perfect for making macaroni cheese.

Little pasta tractors.

I also frequently buy chard, either from the Aged One or the Jardins Vergers organic market gardeners who come to the market in Preuilly. 

Chard (aka silver beet) growing in the Aged One's orchard.

When one of our English friends delivers a block or two of cheddar I have a trio of ingredients that go perfectly together and I can make cheesy chardy tractors.

The Aged One with a bunch of chard for me.

The recipe I use is on Simply Recipes.

Two individual servings for the freezer.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The Hills of Preuilly

There is one drawback to training for an alpine event when living in Preuilly sur Claise. We're not exactly blessed with alps. In fact, apart from a few exceptions we're ever so slightly lacking in hills of any kind.

I will list those exceptions (using the names we have given them):

Number1 on the list, and the hill I measure myself against is the Col de College. The first couple of weeks climbing this needed a stop about 3/4 of the way up to start breathing again. These days I can do it non-stop, and continue walking when I get to the top. It's a 10% average gradient, over 500 metres.

Number 2 is the track at Roux. This one starts off easily enough, but towards the end ramps up to about 25%. It's a good test, because it's an unmade road, the kind of surface we may encounter in Davos.

Number 3 comes in two parts: The first is a road that was used when the Grand Rue was having its roadworks, and the second part is a diversion half way along. The sealed surface part is a long slog*, with a 25% section in the middle

The second section is much more of a challenge - turn right where the road bends left, and you are greeted with a downhill section. Turn left where the tarmac runs out, and there is a "steep" rocky track. This one really burns, and could be the scene of some pretty intense action in spring next year.

There are other hills, but for the purpose of this exercise they need to be hills on quiet roads, where we are not in danger of: being mown down by someone driving and texting (you wouldn't believe how many people I have seen on the phone and driving); being shot at by hunters with bad eyesight; and where the hill is part of a circuit we can reasonably walk in a hour.

(*for this part of the world)


Tuesday's Training Tales.
Although last week we both had a combination of sore throats and coughs and we worked two days - late in the season for us, but by no means the latest (that is next week) -we still managed 3 days of fast walking for just over 18km, and two visits tio the pool in Tours for 2,200 metres of swimming.

Monday, 12 November 2018

A Hundred Years Ago

Yesterday all over France people gathered together to honour the memories of those who died in the Great War, and to acknowledge the sacrifices and hardships endured by every family in the country.

The proceedings in Preuilly began at 9am outside the town hall. A crowd gathered around a troupe of drummers, flag bearers, local representatives of various associations and the fire brigade. A member of the British expat community carried a British flag. I had hoped to carry the Australian flag, but our flag is a full sized version, designed to be flown from a big flagpole. Protocol didn't allow for it to be paraded.

From the town hall we marched down to the abbey where more people were waiting. The crowd was invited in to take their seats and the drummers and flagbearers processed down the aisle to take up their places at the front either side of the altar.

Various people gave readings, and hymns were sung. The college (junior high school) student was particularly impressive, confident and clear. The priest gave a short, very good sermon, reminding everyone that the day is also Saint Martin's saint day and that here in the Touraine that is particularly relevant. He managed to get in a mention of the thousands of migrants 'knocking on our doors' and how we should share and care, like Saint Martin, without taking anything away from his message about honouring the memory of the war dead. The abbey doesn't have an organ, so the local chateau owner plays guitar to accompany the hymns. The acoustics and singing were beautiful. It seems no one in Preuilly sings like a bullfrog and the community just naturally harmonises. Lovely, and genuinely moving.

After those who take communion did so we moved on to the war memorial, for speeches and wreath laying. Gérard Thoreau, deputy mayor, spoke about the contribution of the British, his quiet way of recognising the local expat community. Fabrice Doucet spoke about the seven new names on the memorial, the result of his research in tracking down those who had been inexplicably or inadvertently left off. Seven men who died at different times, one in the first year of the war, another of wounds after the war had ended, and in different locations -- the Meuse, Verdun, Syria... All of them had been born or lived in Preuilly although some had worked in Paris. One was a priest, two of them lived at the top of our street.

Following the ceremony at the memorial everyone moved on to the salle des fetes for drinks and nibbles. I donated some little cocktail Australian flags for the table decorations. Several people asked me what the stars on the Australian flag signify. They guessed the States, but no one had heard of the Southern Cross.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Hundred Year Old Trench Art

Today is the centenary of the end of the First World War. It was a war that perhaps more than any other affected modern France. A generation died on the battlefield and France came frighteningly close to losing. Those in the trenches suffered tremendously as we all know, but there was real privation on the home front too, with food shortages everywhere and lack of skilled labour to produce even the staples of life.

Bertrand Beau has gathered together a collection of memorabilia from local families and it is exhibited in the Salle des Fetes. In his own attic he found two newspapers, dated 9 November 1918 and 12 November 1918. They had been annotated by his wife Christiane's grandmother at the time -- the reports of the day the Kaiser abdicated and the day the war ended.

Local college (junior high school) students and townsfolk attend an excellent lecture on the homefront.

Mobilisation, requistion and calls to give up your gold for the war effort posters.

Family photos and trench art. The man middle right is A. Multon, the grandfather of Mme Foucher, 
who survived to have Germans billeted on his farm in the Second World War.

Trench art jewellery pieces from Mme Foucher's sister-in-law's family.

A diary from the trenches in neat tiny writing, and a pencil portrait.

Michel, Jean-Claude and Albert look over the exhibition.

A trunk from the Joubert de la Motte family.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Pyramidal Bugle

These intensely purple plants lured me over the edge at Nufenen Pass. I wasn't in any danger, but I was the only person down on the ledge below the visitor centre. I just had to get a closer look.

The plants turned out to be Pyramidal Bugle Ajuga pyramidalis. My field guide helpfully describes them as 'bright purple', in bold, like that, so you understand how very purple they are. They are also hairy.

They like to grow in open grassland and on rocky ledges, anywhere from sea level to 2700 metres. Theoretically I could see them here in the Touraine, but I'm sure I would have remembered them if I had.

Friday, 9 November 2018

The Story of Badoit

Badoit is my fizzy water of choice. It is a naturally gassy mineral water brand in the stable of Danone products (the gas is also augmented with carbon dioxide). The water is extracted from several springs in the commune of Saint Galmier, in the département of Loire.

In the bar at the Hotel Restaurant de l'Image in Preuilly.

The springs gained a reputation in the 18th century for being 'appetizing and exhilarating' and the royal physician promoted them. It contains bicarbonate of soda, calcium, sodium, magnesium (in significant quantities), potassium and silica, with a pH of 6.

The main spring was known in antiquity and the Romans build a spa around it. In 1837 Auguste Badoit acquired the lease on one of the springs, which he ran as a spa. By 1845 he was buying up the other springs, in order to prevent competition. A couple of years later, with the lease not renewed on his original spring, he closed the spa and decided to concentrate on marketing the bottled water. When he died in 1858 he was selling 1.5 million bottles a year.

At the big Auchan supermarket in Chatellerault.

His wife, daughter and son-in-law took over running the business. The bottles in the 1870s were stoneware ceramics, corked and sealed with wax. They carried a green label to prevent counterfeit products on the market. The family bought the main springs in Saint Galmier at this time, and introduced a half size bottle for the Paris market.

In 1883 the business vertically integrated by buying a glass factory and making its own bottles. This saved them money on transport and purchasing. They also bought several more of the local springs soon after and became a limited liability company and the therapeutic attributes of Badoit spring water were recognised by the Academy of Medicine. Consumers bought their Badoit in the pharmacy.

On the shelf in the Episervice corner store in Preuilly.

Corks were replaced by crown caps on the bottles in 1913 and by the 1950s Badoit had escaped the pharmacy and was available in supermarkets. Sales really took off, with production at 37 million bottles. Then in the 1960s they merged with Evian and production reached 57 million bottles. In 1970 Evian-Badoit was bought by Danone. Sales plunged to 1950s levels. The move to television advertising and PVC bottles turned the tide (glass bottles were now reserved for restaurants). Bottles got screw caps in the 1980s, became the now familiar translucent green and the first of the flavoured waters were introduced (mint and lemon). Sales skyrocketed to 240 million bottles.

The bottles became PET in 1999 and Danone sold the glass factory. Extra fizzy Badoit in red bottles appeared in 2004 and in 2007 the 750ml bottle was introduced. Sales reached 300 million bottles.

Today Badoit produces a million bottles a day and have 12% of the French natural mineral water market.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Preuilly by Moonlight

Our visiting South African friend Jheanne took this photo of the full moon at the end of October from his bedroom window in the Hotel de l'Image on Place des Halles in Preuilly.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

The Walnut Harvest

I harvested our walnuts in mid-October. It was a bumper crop this year and now they have been drying in our pantry for a while they are ready to use. This means shelling them first, which I will do in batches, then put the nuts in the freezer in 200g lots.

There's always one...

Soon I'll be making:

Pear and Walnut Cake


Savoury Goats Cheese and Walnut Biscotti

Coffee and Walnut Cake

Beetroot and Walnut Pesto

Anything else you can think of?

You have to have your eye in to spot them on the ground.

Also ready for filtering and bottling is this year's batch of walnut liqueur


Tuesday's Training Tales.

I know - it's Wednesday, but I did kind of lose track of the days

Last week was not our finest - we both suffered from winter starting and general life stuff. However, we managed 11km of walking and 900 metres of swimming. Not spectacular, but it's something.

Bad news - the bathroom scales died and we bought a new set THAT TELL LIES! The same lies as the scales in the Dr's surgery. Hey ho...

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

The Prodigal Sweatshirt

Back in May I went on a botany outing to a site near Saint Bauld. I started out wearing a sweatshirt but it very quickly became warm and I took it off and tied it around my waist.

 Rabbits have grazed everything, including all the Burnt Tip Orchids here.

When we got back to the cars it suddenly dawned on me that I no longer had the sweatshirt. I did a whirlwind retracing of our steps.  Fortunately botanists move slowly, so never get very far and I was able to complete the circuit we did in under half an hour. I didn't see the sweatshirt on the ground anywhere though. With regret, I gave up. I was sad because my mother had made me the garment.

Then at the end of September I went on a fungi outing, meeting up with the same group of people. Chantal greeted me in the carpark at the Etang de Ribaloche in the Forest of Preuilly with a big smile and a black plastic bag. 'Take a look', she said, 'Christiane found your sweatshirt on her third return visit to the Saint Bauld site!" It was found lying on a rabbit warren and Christiane said she thought it smelled of rabbit pee.

The sweatshirt on the line (note trendy running pants to the right -- a new addition to the wardrobe).

I took it home and washed it. It's acquired a couple of little holes it didn't have before, and the fabric feels a bit harsh from being in the sun for months, but I've worn it now a couple of times and it's fine. It was nice to get it back, just because of the sentimental value.

Monday, 5 November 2018

What to Do With Kohlrabi

A kohlrabi root.

Since I seem to have become the official kohlrabi advocate at the market in Preuilly, offering advice to anyone who will listen, I thought I'd put some kohlrabi suggestions on the blog. It's one of those weird looking vegetables that people have forgotten or never tried.

Julienned kohlrabi.

Kohlrabi and Salmon Salad

A kohlrabi
300 g poached salmon
Salad leaf 

A few shreds of shallot
A pinch of chilli
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp soy sauce
½ tsp sugar
4 tbsp snipped chives
Salt & pepper

Peel and julienne a kohlrabi (I have a tool which does string julienne).

The dressing.

Make a marinade dressing by mixing a few shreds of shallot, a pinch of chilli powder, 2 tbsp red wine vinegar, 1 tsp soy sauce, 1/2 tsp sugar, 4 tbsp snipped chives, season with salt and pepper and combine with the kohlrabi.

Marinading kohlrabi.

Put some salad leaf on a plate, add some fish (could be chunks of poached salmon or cod, smoked fish, shellfish or tuna). Pile the kohlrabi on top.

Kohlrabi and salmon salad.

The mild mustardy flavour of kohlrabi goes extremely well with fatty fishes such as salmon, trout or eel. I also recommend kohlrabi cut into batons and served with other crudités and a dip such as tuna or salmon rillettes, or salmon mousse.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Coffs Harbour Bananas

The Big Banana is a fun park at Coffs Harbour. The reason it has a banana based theme is that Coffs Harbour was once wall to wall banana plantations. Thirty years ago there were 1000 banana growers in the area. Now there are fewer than thirty.

Bananas in front of natural bushland.

I took all these photos from the highway as we drove through. Two years earlier the plantations had been devastated first by a storm which felled banana palms left right and centre, then a drought which meant that bunch and fruit size was reduced. The only good news was that this sub-tropical area had not yet been hit by TR4 Panama Disease, which has caused havoc in tropical North Queensland plantations and threatens to wipe out Cavendish variety bananas globally. Coffs Harbour banana growers aren't taking any chances though. They are busy diversifying into avocadoes and blueberries.

Once this hillside would have been covered in bananas.

A house surrounded by bananas.

Saturday, 3 November 2018


A couple of months ago I wrote about my excitement about seeing some of the places in Switzerland that I remembered from pictures in a book my parents gave me in 1966.

The Parsennbahn is one of those places. Built in 1931, the funicular railway comes in two parts with an interchange between the two. It is 4,048 metres (13,281 ft) long, which makes it one of the longest in Switzerland. The lower section was renovated in 2002 and the upper section in 2010. We rode up to the top of Weissfluhjoch on the funicular, and it was as spectacular as I had hoped.

The view from the top station

Can I say that I was so excited that Susan was starting to worry about me?

Friday, 2 November 2018

Annual On Farm Gourmet Market

Our local duck farmer holds a gourmet market annually on the last Sunday in October. It's always worth me going because I order our annual fresh foie gras which we process after lunch at Rosemary and Jean-Michel's in early December. I also usually buy locally produced flour, walnut oil, goats cheese and river fish paste. It's an opportunity to chat with Greg, my local organic snail producer too. This year the weather was perishing and our visiting South African friends Joy and Jheanne accused me of taking them to the Arctic. Numbers at the market did not seem to be affected though, as most people come for the lunch, a duck based menu served in the barn. Here are some pictures from the event.

A walnut producer demonstrating a nifty tool for collecting the nuts.

One of the half dozen professional river fishermen working the Loire in the Touraine.
I bought a pot of smoked allis shad paste (Fr. rillettes d'Alose fumée). The fisherman obviously understood English because he observed me explaining all the products to Joy and Jheanne, saying I was doing a very good job. He told me that alose, which is a migratory fish making a return to the Loire after years of very low breeding numbers, is a relative of the sardine. Many locals remember it from their childhood and mourn its rarity now.

Greg's snail stall on the left, locally grown and milled flour on the right.

Pressing walnuts for oil.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

An Article About Me in the Local Newspaper

An article about me and Brexit was published in the local newspaper La Nouvelle République on Sunday. The journalist Xavier Roche-Bayard came to see me after I emailed the paper to say I'd been on the demonstration in London the weekend before. We talked for an hour and a half, covering a wide range of topics, but mostly discussing Brexit. I have translated his article below.

 Xavier Roche-Bayard, a journalist with La Nouvelle République, based in Loches.

Susan Walter, a Britain more French than English after Brexit

Susan Walter demonstrated last Saturday in London against Brexit. Settled in Preuilly sur Claise for 10 years, she expects to apply for French citizenship.

She has two nationalities: that of her country of birth, Australia, and that of her adopted country (and of her husband, Simon Brand), England. Next year, for their sixtieths, Susan Walter envisages applying for a third nationality -- French. "If I have to choose, it will be Australian and French. I will no longer be English. In France there is everything I need to live, to work, for my rights, to be able to cross European borders. We've asked for a permanent residency card for after Brexit. Our income tax declarations are important for establishing our residency in France," she says in impeccable French.

"We even thought that the leaders of the Brexit campaign were joking."

Ten years ago she quit her job with the National Trust, a British institution charged with the preservation of historic monuments and sites of interest (more than 300 buildings and 200 gardens).

This lover of history has lived ever since in Preuilly, where she has developed a tourism business in the country of the Loire castles for anglophone lovers of history and French gastronomy. "Brexit wasn't even an idea that existed at the time in my business plan. It was a shock in June 2016 when the vote was to withdraw from the European Union." She couldn't believe Brexit would be carried. "The arguments 'for' were so exaggerated, ridiculous, lying. It seemed impossible. We even thought that the leaders of the Brexit campaign were joking." One of those British dubbed the "urban elite, because I come from London" (a city where the majority voted against Brexit), she and her husband got in their car to join the anti-Brexit demonstration in London last Saturday. "In March 2017 there must have been a hundred thousand. This time they are saying 700 000, but I would say a million people. The ambiance was good, the police were smiling. At the end there was a party in the streets."

 Me at the demonstration in London.

For her "it's clear, many British have changed their minds. They voted 'for' and now they see the negative consequences, like the loss of markets... Many farmers think that Great Britain will offer subsidies in place of the European Union. I am sure that this will not be the case."

Hostile Environment
Susan Walter regrets especially the harm that has been done. "My husband says that at the base of Brexit is racism, against Muslims, Poles and West Indians. In Great Britain there is this expression -- 'hostile envronment' -- because the ambiance, the atmosphere has really changed." The 29th of March at 11 o'clock, the day Great Britain leaves the European Union, "I will be nervous, agitated, I'm sure," Susan Walter imagines. Her regret -- that Britains abroad don't have representatives, outside of the consul, to make themselves heard. "In France, you have this, you can vote. Lots of British in France, after 15 years, no longer have the right to vote." And ask this question concerning numerous French villages: "What will happen if the British leave and put all their real estate up for sale?"