Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Almost Christmas

Just two more shopping days to Christmas. It is hard to believe we have a recession in the UK when you see the masses out in the town. I walked to Salisbury's to do the big shop as I predicted the car park would be full, and it was. The place was heaving with people, admittedly most were in a friendly and laid back mood, it was the only way to go. I think I have got enough food to last a snow in and if not too bad. The presents are wrapped and the cake is made and just needs to be iced - I will do that tomorrow, no nothing fancy just ready rolled white fondant icing and a nice ribbon, that will do me. The mince pies are in the freezer, well they were till I took some out this afternoon - you have to taste them don't you.

I thought we were in for a thaw yesterday but today has remained cold and this evening it is very cold again, a clear night and what appears to be cleared paths and road surfaces are indeed black ice.

Snow and cold weather is affecting us all across Europe, global warming was supposed to bring milder wetter winters or was that colder wetter summers, I think the experts change their minds according to the weather we are experiencing. Any way Rob read in today's Times that it is the wrong sort of snow which is causing the problems with the Eurostar , too dry and powdery, but few pages further on it is the wrong type of snow which is causing further problems too wet and too soft! Is there ever the right sort of snow.

Monday, 2 November 2009

The paint job

Before the paint job

After the paint job.

How the time flies, Rob painted two of the outside walls of the garage this last week, he started a second coat which can just be seen on the left hand side but has now run out of paint, but that means his painting arm has time to recover.

I have kept up with my walking - in to the village and back on Thursday to get a few things from the shops 5 miles (8.1km) there and back. And earlier in the week I set off up the road towards the village but kept on going and did the shortest circular walk 4.8 miles (7.8km) as the weather was so nice. I had left Rob painting the garage and wondering which hill I was walking up when I didn't return home! Still not up to participating in the moon walk next year luckily I didn't register for it.

Yesterday we had some very heavy rain with a few strong gusts of wind, it seems quieter today although still raining on and off.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Rob's main job for this visit was to install three velux style windows in the roof of the garage. There is a large space above the garage about 9 x 6 meters which Rob is intending to use as an artists studio. Saturday Rob and Richard work all day but installed the windows with relative ease. They bring in lots of light and also mean we can see out across the fields.

Richard and Rob satisfied with their hard days work!

View of garage windows from the garden - they look as though they have always been there.

The garden is looking good, there are still some vegetables to eat
and others which were ready to be harvested have been cleared such as butternut squash, marrows, courgettes, aubergines, peas and runner beans. The areas which are now free of plants and weeds have been covered with either black plastic or with the cardboard packaging from the new windows. Hopefully this will prevent the weeds from taking hold this winter.
The eating apples are beginning to fall - so I have been using these windfalls to make apple juice. Not sure what the variety they are but they make good eaters and good sharp yet sweet juice.

We had rain on our journey down here, and the ground is now damp. With the damp and the mild temperature we were hopeful that mushrooms might have started to poke their heads out of the ground, so we went out yesterday to our usual spot but we weren't very successful, we did find a few which we ate with our supper last night. We did find an interesting beast, just 5cm long which we have now identified as a fire salamander, however not before posting it on the Autumn Watch site for identification.

The fire salamander

The grapes have ripened well and they are good to eat if full of pips. After our last attempt at wine making we will just enjoy these grapes fresh and leave the wine making to the experts.

All around us pear picking is in full swing, these are the small round pears used to make poiré (perry) which is a speciality of the region. These pears have to be picked of the ground by hand while they are still fresh, unlike the apples for cider which can be gathered by machine and can already be beginning to rot for the cider. It is really hard work, and apparently they don't know yet how much they will get per kilo for the pears, but it has been a good year so there are plenty to gather.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

London, Honey fungus and friends

Six of us got together last week for lunch. What's so unusual about that one might think but ten years ago we met for the first time when we embarked on our degree course organised by the WI. That first semester seems a long way off now, in fact it is hard to believe we spent so much time on our course, but we all survived the course and we all became good friends too. It is always good to get together as we are all very opinionated but generally we all think along the same lines so we don't fall out or argue. As usual the conversation was dominated by WI issues, but with interludes of family weddings, house moving and new kitchens....

We went to London this week primarily to visit the private view of an exhibition put on by one of our friends, but used the opportunity to explore Bloomsbury. We followed a planned walk, which took us down streets we hadn't yet discovered. Lots of beautiful squares and gardens - people were out picnicking at lunchtime - it was a lovely day dry and sunny and pleasantly warm. Just a few streets away from the main thoroughfares it is amazingly peaceful and quiet, hard to imagine you are in central London.
The photo shows a charging point for an electric car - the only one we noticed but I am sure there must be more around.

It continues to be very dry which means there are very few mushrooms around, we did find some honey fungus last weekend which was growing abundantly on some trees in a local wood, but they don't need rain to grow. We are still eating the tomatoes which are ripening well on the window sill. We have stored the pears in the fridge to prevent them ripening too fast but we have had plenty despite pruning the pear tree very hard last winter.

Saturday, 3 October 2009


Despite the horrific weather reports from the UK, the east of England has not had rain for about the last ten weeks. The ground is hard and the grass has resembles dry straw. The local paper reported that the local sugar campaign had been delayed because the farmers were finding it difficult to harvest the sugar beat. Our region of France has also suffered from the lack of rain since the beginning of August and it proved very difficult to lift the potatoes as the ground resembled concrete, the main crop of potatoes was very poor I think due to lack of water - I suppose i should have watered them. However it is not a matter of life or death unlike areas of East Africa who are suffering a severe drought after several years of failed rainy seasons. I don't think any of this is particularly due to global warming but it does bring home the fact that no matter where we live we all need rain even if we moan about a wet summer.

We spent last Saturday at Great Yarmouth, it was good to see the resort so busy, there were families on the beach and enjoying the fun of the pier. The beach cafés were also doing a brisk trade. We haven't spent much time in Great Yarmouth before and I had forgotten how wide and clean the beaches are. Lots of space for everyone. Just off shore are 32 wind turbines, currently one of the largest offshore wind farms. They are really impressive and there is information centre on the sea front explaining how they were built and how much energy they produce. Unfortunately when we first arrived they were still as there was no wind, not something you usually encounter on the British coast. Later on the wind picked up a little and they were soon turning into the wind. There is something special about sitting on the bench over looking the north sea whilst enjoying 'good old' fish and chips.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

A Girls Night Out

After much preparation finally the day had arrived. Debbie and I joined about 350 other women on Angel Hill. After a registering we all warmed up to music although we felt we were using too much energy which we would need later on. At 8p.m., by this time it was dark, off we set off complete with police escort. The route took us out on Northgate Street and then we followed roads leading around the edge of the town, through the various housing estates. As we passed ASDA supermarket, we were offered water and apples and some took advantage of the toilet facilities there. We continued on around the west of Bury until we came to the Hospital, this was about half way. We made a detour up to the Hospice where again water was on offer. They had supplied portaloos outside, but there were only two, which meant a long wait in line. We think we waited 20 mins, but when you consider there 350 women it could have been even longer. Then it was off for the final leg, we were on familiar walking territory as we had been out many times training in this area. Eventually four hours after starting out we arrived back at Angel Hill where there was hot chocolate and bacon rolls. It had stayed dry all evening and was not at all cold. I think we caught up all the news but there may be a few things we forgot to discuss, we may need to get out and do some more walking.

We were tired but really happy and pleased that we had completed our walk - I knew we could do it but on the day it did seem a little daunting.
This video was taken while waiting to register.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Milk, Cream and Butter; Melk, Room en Boter; Lait, Creme et Beurre

Milk Milk every where, yesterday we got together with our Dutch neighbours and armed with large quantities of fresh milk, our cream separator, their cream separator, and the guests staying in their holiday cottage. We inherited our cream separator with the house and it is in excellent condition. It was a wonderful opportunity to try it out. Having got it spinning at speed milk was poured into the large bowl and the tap opened - wow we were all covered in milk. Out came the other one to compare and we found that ours was missing a vital bolt which holds the conical disks in place.

Not to be deterred we assembled the other one and started again. Litres of milk were poured into the top bowl and milk gushed out of one spout and then amazingly cream started to pour slowly out of the other - a rich thick cream - it was working. All the men got involved with the spinning of the handle and the topping up with milk and the collecting of the skimmed milk. There were the usual jokes about how many men does it take to separate 35 litres of milk.... 3 men and 3 women. We had great fun despite us being covered in milk and the floor awash with it too.

This morning the fun continued when we assembled to churn the cream in to butter. We now know why farming families had so many children, as we all took a turn at swing the handle.
Two hours later - about two kilos of butter was ready - possibly the most expensive butter ever produced considering the man hours involved but never mind it was a good experience and we all learned a lot from it. Next time will be easier - we hope.

We also had a day on the coast this week. We went to the small village of St Jean le Thomas, situated on the bay of the Mont St Michel between Avranches and Granvilles. We collected some cockles as we walked on the beach then had a good lunch in the Hotel des Bains. One day we will remember to take our foraging gear with us - bucket and rake etc., anyway we improvised with a large handkerchief tied into a bag to hold the cockles and oysters we found. On the way home we stopped off on the off change of finding some family friends at their house. We spent a pleasant hour or so catching up on the news with Allan. We ate our cockles and oysters for supper along with a salad of garden delights.

The garden continues to feed us well. I started to harvest the carrots - and as well as being tasty they also have amusing shapes. As the summer comes to a close I am surprised by how much we have grown, broad beans, peas, carrots, beetroot, red onions, garlic, swiss chard, potatoes, courgettes, blueberries, radishes, rocket and lettuces. The aubergines are still growing bigger everyday, the butternut squash are starting to ripen. Another crop of peas is heading skywards and the late crop of runner beans are in full flower. The leeks continue to get bigger and there are second crops of beetroot and carrots. The jerusalem artichokes have grown well as usual and have been trimmed down a couple of times to keep them under control.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

September arrives

Yesterday we enjoyed a warm sunny day - a good way to end August. While Rob walked around Bagnoles de l"Orne taking photos of the houses which were built in the late 19th century when the town became a spa resort.I walked through the wooded area there looking for bilberries. I found a few but I think it was just luck as the plants appeared to have been stripped of their fruits. At least there were plenty of healthy looking plants so next year I will get there earlier in the summer.

I have finally found some local history material in our local library. Alain Hairie, who family lived in Domfront has written a few small booklets about the second world war, in particular, how Jewish children were hidden and cared for by the local community and about the relgious community in Perrou - a nearby village- where the sisters ran an orphanage, old peoples home and cared for the sick. They also took in Jewish children and some of their mothers before the community was taken over by the Germans towards the end of the war and used it as a hospital to care for soldiers injured on the front. He has interviewed some of those who lived in the area and whose families were involved. He has also tracked down some of the children who were hidden. Of course the information they have given is very limited as all those interviewed were very young during the war and have limited memories of the events that happened around them. He has realised that he has undertaken this research rather late in the day and has missed the chance to interviiew those who were active both in the resistance and in the community.
One of his books covers some of the bombing of the area and reference is made to the 'flying fortresses' attempting to destroy the fuel depots which were hidden in the forests between Domfront and Bagnoles. Apparently there is still evidence of bomb caters to be seen in the woods, just like we have around us in Bury St Edmunds.  See the link for more information  http://www.ansa39-45.fr/independencedayenglish.htm

Last week we visited the village of La Gué Plat which was purpose built in the 1920's to house the mine workers of the iron ore mine which was opened there. There are still remnents of the mining activity to be seen, strangely set against the local forest landscape. We learned that iron ore mining has been taking place in the area for a very long time as there is a band of iron deposits which came to the surface in this village and the pits can still be seen where the ore was excavated.
We have since discoved that the Orne Valley south of Caen has been the most important source of iron ore in France and the reason that the canal was built from Caen to the see, to export the ore and import the coal needed for the furnesses.

The garden continues to feed us well, and I am now planning next years vegetable garden. The ground has become rock hard due to the lack of rain, but I continue to water the beans and the butternut squash and hope to get a good harvest from them. There is a severe drought in a large number of departments, including the department of the Mayenne which is just a couple of kilometers south of here. There have water restictions and the television news shows the land dry as dust and crops such as the maize and sunflowers wilting in the fields. We noticed this when we went down to the Loire Valley a couple of weeks ago. The maize fields here are lush and the crop at least 2.5m high. As a local farmer said last week, we can sometimes be glad that we are in Normandy and get as much rain as we do.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Music in the park

Our nearby Spa resort of Bagnoles de L'Orne puts on musical events every Sunday afternoon during the summer season. These take place in the park in front of the Chateau. We spent a pleasant afternoon there last week listening to 'Calypso made in Calvados'.

Open Farm Weekend

This last week end our Dutch neighbours opened their farm to visitors as part of 'Les pieds dans l'herbe.' There were four farms open in the region, our neighbours and a farm in Passais were the ones close to us. On Saturday we visited Isabelle et Jacques Mousset's farm of Saint Auvieu
at Passais la Conception. They have set up their own creamery and Isabelle makes fresh cream, butter, yoghurt and fromage blanc from their own milk. They have also installed a heating system which uses chipped waste wood, many visitors found the boiler and feed system interesting.
Sunday we helped out our Dutch friends on their farm at La Dennee. They had just over 100 visitors on Sunday afternoon. They showed their waste water reed beds, the holiday cottage they rent out for holidays and the cows and milking parlour. We finished they day there with a BBQ for the helpers and their guests in the guest house. We had a lovely evening sitting outside until late in the evening. For more info see the link.

Bardsey Apple

Our Bardsey apple is now two years old had has produced 9 apples this year. One apple has already fallen from the tree and we have picked three others as they have been attacked by earwigs and we don't want them to rot on the tree. It is a beautiful apple, similar in colour and appearance to a nectarine - they have rosy cheeks. A crunchy apple with a fresh clean taste, sweet with a little tartness. The flesh is clear off white, the skin is thin and tasty. Our current feeling is that this is a nice cheerful apple. I will update when we have harvest the rest of our apples. But for the moment we are very happy with this new variety in our orchard.

Visit to Caen
Last week we drove up to Caen, the castle has several exhibition spaces as part of the museum of Normandy. We went to see an exhibition of travel posters. As usual it was very well presented and also very interesting. We also climbed the hill to visit the Abbaye aux Dames, which now houses the regional government offices, but is open to the public, well worth a visit. It is nice to spend time in a proper town, with shops, busses, trams etc. It makes a change from the peace of our rural surroundings here.

We continue to harvest vegetables from the garden, the tomatoes are ripening fast and are really tasty. The two butternut squash plants are running rampant over the garden. Several fruits have set - hopefully they will ripen before we leave.
Chutney making continues using the wind fall apples and other veg as it becomes available.

Today we have installed another satellite dish, with the help of an English friend. We now have the BBC/ITV etc as an alternative to French television. I like to watch the local and national french news programmes, however we don't find there is much else of interest - at least not in the summer.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Hot summer days

Not sure where the time is going but the days fly by. I can't pretend that I am very busy or working particularly hard. Last week Céaucé celebrated it's Saints Day of St Ernier with its traditional procession with floats and brass bands followed by a BBQ supper on the village square. There weren't as many floats this year and the band which usually comes from Belgium was missing too. This year no candidates came forward to be elected 'Miss Céaucé' so we had 'Miss Ambrieres' and her attendants to grace the possession, beautiful as usual. I think it may be time for a 'Mrs. Céaucé' if the youngsters are not interested. We went to the supper, and met up with some English friends there. But it was so noisy that it was almost impossible to have a conversation, particularly when the band started up and the singing started. The less I say about the food the better. While we were eating the heavens opened and the rain flowed through the tent. However when we got home there had been no rain at all. It had been a very isolated storm.

Found some cherry plums growing in the hedgerow so have taken the opportunity to make some jam.

The blackberries continue to ripen and I have made my first batch of Bramble Jelly. I also used some to make a sauce to accompany a panacotta the other evening.

Modern Art in our B&B bedroom an empty picture frame.

Tuesday Rob and I set off for a couple of days in the Loire Valley. We drove straight down to Angers and then followed the river to Saumur. We spent some time walking around the town, but it was very hot and humid, so not very pleasant. We continued on to the village of Fontevraud which has a wonderful old abbey. As the two hotels were both fully booked we found a B&B just on the edge of the village. Luckily we were able to get a table at the hotel/restaurant in the centre of the village. We had a wonderful meal served outside in the courtyard of the restaurant, see link. http://www.fontevraud.net/
The next day we visited the Abbey - should anyone be passing this way we recommend a visit for more information: http://www.abbaye-fontevraud.com/v3/home/

Dominique, one of our neighbours is here for two weeks holiday from her work in Paris, so she and Serge came on Thursday for supper, It was good to catch up with them as she is often busy when she is here at the weekends and we don't often get the chance to chat.

Today we visited the annual manifestation at St. Fraimbault, as usual it was very well organised, lots of local producers of food and drink, demonstrations of farming techniques, exhibitions of tomatoes, rabbits and chickens, beautiful displays of flowers and a classic car rally. It was very hot and after having a look at all that was on offer we came home to spend the rest of the afternoon under the trees in the garden where there was some breeze.
The photo shows my dad looking at one of the cars last year.

The garden continues to supply us with a good selection of vegetables. The tomatoes are now ripening quickly giving us a constant supply, however the ones growing in the garden had been hit by blight so I think I have lost all of those. I have removed all the effected parts but it was such a severe attack I don't think there is much hope which is a shame as they were heavily laden with fruits. The neighbours are being overwhelmed by courgettes so although we have plenty of our own I have taken some of theirs to start this years chutney production.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Busy week

Been busy since my last posting,I have met up with another English girl, she is much younger than me, who is in training to walk up Snowdon later this month. So far we have managed one walk together, hopefully we will get more in. I am walking on my own in the evenings even if it is only to the end of the road and back 1.6km.

This morning Rob and I went out for a walk starting from the village of St Simeon, not far from here. It is a circular walk taking in several menirs and dolmens, however it soon become very hot so we only walked as far as the first menir and then came back along a different road. It was very quiet hardly anyone out and about. On the road leading out of St Simeon we found lots of edible mushrooms, all of which had already gone over but it shows that the season has started early this year, could be to do with all the rain we have had.

On our way to St Simeon we did come across several giant puffballs in a field with cows, they were close to the road so Rob rolled under the barbed wire and picked one, we shall be having it for supper. It is enormous - I have photographed it with a lemon to give some idea of size. It weighs 1300g

The garden continues to keep us supplied with fresh vegetables and herbs. Almost without exception our meals are based around the days harvest. We have eaten out first ripe tomato,see photo, but there are many more on the plants and two more are almost ripe. The potatoes continue to impress particularly the variety Rocket - I will be growing these again. The beetroot are also impressive and are living up to the description on the seed packet - they are large 10 -15 cm in diameter but still beautiful and tender all the way through - no tough bits at all.

Rob has been busy treating the floor and beams in the attic of the garage against wood worm, it has been a long hard task particularly when he was painting it on above his head. He managed to loose a contact lense as there was so much dust and perspiration - luckily he has brought along a second pair, as we have not managed to find it.

Costa del Faverie

Now that the weather has improved we have put out our new parasol which we brought with us, there was a time when we thought it would be staying in its box, but as you can see it gives a very summery impression. In fact I am sitting under it now as I write my blog - very pleasant indeed. What is also impressive is that I still get a good connection to the internet out here despite the wall between me and the 'livebox' is about 90cm thick.

There was lots happening round about this last weekend. It was the bi-annual Mediaeval Faire in Domfront and on Sunday the annual fete in Soucé. We visited Domfront on Saturday luckily timeing our visit avoiding the really heavy rain. It was not a good day, our neighbours who have a shop in Domfront said it was very disapointing but Sunday was much better as it was a bright and sunny day.

We went to Soucé where we had our stall selling chutneys and English paperbacks. We packed up early afternoon when we had only three jars of chutney left. We felt we had had a successful day. Sales were good with some repeat customers, I seem to be making a name for myself. Now I am waiting for the apples to ripen and for a glut of courgettes and I will be back making chutneys for next year.

Monday, 27 July 2009

Working Hard

Not sure where the last week as gone, time seems to have flown by. However as you can see Rob has been very busy. His first job was to install George's catflap, note the ears of expansion foam, they remind of of mickey mouse.

Since then Rob has removed a window from the garage it was rotted through and beyond repair. He has designed and made this window from scratch. It is now finished, just waiting for paint job when the putty has dried. I have to say this whole job was done, without swearing and he didn't fall off the ladder either.

The weather has been patchy, some nice days and some heavy rain. With the weather looking a bit better on Friday afternoon we set off for a short walk through some of the green lanes locally. No sooner had we got out of the car than it started to rain, just a light drizzle so off we set. The lanes were well covered by the canopy of the large trees. Lovely mossy banks and way off the beaten track, we even found a beautiful 'chicken of the woods', see picture, which we harvested for our supper. However it finally turned into a downpour, complete with thunder. We sheltered under trees until they could no longer hold the rain back. There was no option but to set off back to the car as we weren't staying any drier under the trees than we thought we would get walking back to the car. By the time we got to the car we were drenched - I don't think I have ever been so wet before.

We have had a nice sunny weekend, the weather improved as had been promised, so we have enjoyed some time sitting out in the warm sunshine and at the same time keeping an eye on the Tour de France. We did watch the final section as they raced around Paris and watched with amazement as Mark Cavendish won this final stage.

We continue to harvest our vegetables from the garden, the potato crop is looking really good this year, particularly after such poor crop last year.

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

First Harvest

The garden is under control and the weeds in the courtyard are more or less dead, although some seem to be having a second life. we have had a busy social life this last weekend, supper with our neighbours on Friday, their nephew and wife have just bought a house in the region and had got the keys and moved the first items in that day. As usual good food, wine and hospitality.
Saturday we had the pleasure of meeting up with some people Rob works with in the UK, they came over for lunch. Thanks to Gerda's large courgette, some of our large peas and mint from the garden we had a lovely soup, recipe from Waitrose in this months Good Housekeeping magazine. Then a chicken dish, no not home produce this time buy served with the first potatoes of the season, large and small but very tasty, see photo.

The blackberries are starting to ripen, at least those growing over the building next door. I think the stone is absorbing the heat and bringing them on faster. harvested the first ones today, not many but Rob had some with his yoghurt and I have frozen the remaining. Need to collect some more as I am supposed to be making some bramble jelly for a WI competition. I hope the berries are plentiful as I will have to practise if we are to win.

Unfortunately one of our English neighbours was taken ill on Sunday and we went with them to the hospital for moral support. Luckily Jo seems to be recovering from the emergency surgery that she had Sunday afternoon.

This week Rob has removed a window from the side of the garage and is making a new one from scratch. So far so good. The first pane of glass is in, and he is perfecting the section which will open and close. It is looking good. I continue with the constant struggle to keep the weeds at bay in the vegetable garden. Each morning I am faced with a covering of small green leaves carpeting the ground. I am determined I will win they will not....

However we continue to harvest, broadbeans, courgettes, lettuces, swiss chard, beetroot, potatoes and herbs. Although we haven't got a large veg plot hopefully it will keep us fed for the rest of the summer.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

Back in France

Six weeks since we were last here and I was anxious to see how the garden was doing. I had expected a lot of weeds in the garden, but I think this is the worse infestation of weeds amongst the vegetables I have ever seen.

However I have spent a lot of time in the garden today and it is not as bad as I first thought. The potatoes are looking good, far better than this time last year when they had all died after a bout of blight, they look healthy as some varieties are in flower. It is hard to find the onions as they are smothered by weeds but I am sure they are sitll there. The broad beans look good - I am sure we will get a couple of meals of them. As usual I probably haven't planted enough beans. I have harvested the peas, one good meal of those which were still fresh and crispy, the others I have blanched and will use in a dish where I can disguise the fact they are a little older and floury.
No courgettes yet, but there are flowers on the plants so it is just a matter of time. The aubergines are struggling, they may improve now that I am here to water them. The beetroot are looking good and is a crop we really enjoy.

The fruit trees are full of fruit, even our young apple tree has 8 apples, not bad for its first attempt, It is a Bardsey apple, an old variety which I beleive was found on Bardsey Island.

The tomato plants we brought from England have suvived the journey and are in pots outside the kitchen window.