Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Sold Out!

Last Sunday we set up stall in Bagnoles de l'Orne. A really good day - more or less sold out. We have only a small selection of books left and when we were down to the last 4 jars of chutney we shut up shop. Several repeat customers came along, ones we had sold to at Domfront the week before and stocked up. Now just have to wait for the apples to be ready for harvesting and then it will be time to make more chutney. The blackberries have started to ripen - made the first blackberry and apple pie today with the first ripe berries and some windfall apples.

Some customers even had their dogs with them.

Aliénor, our next door neighbours dog, has given birth to her first litter of pups, nine healthy little things. When we saw them they still had their eyes closed but had already grown quite a lot.

Mother and babies doing well!

Yesterday we visited the town of Mortagne au Perche which is in the eastern partof the Department of Orne. A lovely small town with many interesting buildings and many small streets to explore, worth a visit if you are near by.

North of the town is the Abbaye de la Trappe ( unfortunately it is not open to the public although there is a shop selling religious books etc and a selection of food and drinks from the Abbey and other local producers.

After leaving Mortagne au Perche we stumbled on La Chapelle Montligeon when we saw the Basilique de Montligeon in the distance on a hillside backed by trees and with a chateau style building to the side. Only recently built - well 100 years ago - it towers over the very small village.

Friday, 16 July 2010

Caen, Vide Greniers, Garden Fresh Veg and 'The Big Society"

Bastille Day, 14th July, saw us up early, the alarm clock had been set and we set off too our local town to set up a stall at the 'vide greniers' basically a car boot sale. It started to drizzle with rain as we left the house but we weren't deterred. Thinking we would be there early we found the town already full of stalls and the most lively we have ever seen it. We secured a place under an archway which had the advantage that we stayed dry when it rained, however it is known as the windiest spot in Domfront. The old town is built on top of a hill and where we stood is the access through to the car park with a panoramic view over the countryside to the north, hence there is always a cold wind up there. However it was a choice get wet or get cold, we chose for cold.

We had our usual produce, jams, chutneys and lemon curd, and a box of secondhand English language paperbacks. The books always draws in the English speakers although they aren't particularly good customers for the chutneys as they tend to make their own. Despite the weather we had a good day, we had taken three boxes of books and left with one. We also sold a lot of chutneys and lemon curd to both locals and visitors.

It is also a good way to meet people, and we made contact with 'friends of some friends' who recognised the label on the Lemon Curd having been offered it to taste by one of our neighbours.
I also met a man interested in local history who made some suggestions of names to look out for in the library and I also told him about some booklets that I had read about the war time period in Domfront which he hadn't heard of. Always nice to know something that locals don't know.

Friday we had our Welsh friends over for lunch - these are the friends we meet up with here, but have only met once on the UK side of the channel. Wednesdays rain had cleared away quickly and we were back to the warmth we have been enjoying for weeks, so kept the menu light, and where possible fresh from the garden.

Salmon, with a fresh vegetable salad, our first new potatoes,and a fruit tart with raspberries, redcurrants and blueberries all picked that morning.

This year has been a particularly good year for fruit - the cherry trees around us have been full of fruit.
I have frozen quite a lot and made three different types of Cherry Jam, White Cherry, Dark Red Cherry and a light Red Cherry.

Monday we headed north to Caen to visit the summer exhibition at the Musée de Normandie. This year it is about the local Caen Stone, which has been used to build Canterbury, Chichester and Norwich Cathedrals as well as the London Bridge. As usual it was very well presented. The temporary exhibitions are held in a recently renovated part of the Castle which as been left with the stone walls exposed and a simple light wood floor. The Presentation is light and modern and with good use of multimedia. I think a few more museums could follow their example.

Girls lunch today - had lunch at our local restaurant with my walking mate. Perhaps we should have been walking rather than eating, but we spent 2 1/2 hours over a leisurely lunch putting the world to right. Yes, we did start at midday and I was home just before three. There was plenty to catch up on, and I am sure there are still topics we should have covered which we missed, but we caught up on friends and family, discussed the economy - volunteering 'in the big society', battered women, careers, motherhood as a career and much more.

One interesting fact - there are 204.031 volunteer firefighters in France who account for 80 % of all fire fighters nationally - I was lunching with one of them!

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Drought, Cherry Ice Cream and World Cup Football

We are back in the peace and tranquillity of rural France after a few days away in the Netherlands visiting family and friends. A visit which included a party on the beach in Scheveningen where some friends were celebrating the fortieth anniversary of their meeting (I think they have been married 38 years) and the funeral of a must respected family member who had died aged 93.

While there we watched the Uruguay - Netherlands match and are now ready for this evenings match against Spain in the World Cup Final. Not having any flags or banners to decorate the house we have found a good use for some Sainsburys carrier bags, thank you Mr. Sainsbury let's just hope they win tonight! Our neighbour has just popped in to enquire about the orange carrier bags, are they for harvesting some particular fruit or veg, or as her husband thought were we celebrating a wedding here today. She didn't know that orange is the national colour of the Netherlands - the royal family is from the 'House of Orange' - now she is wiser. Once France dropped out of the World Cup that was the end of it here in France there is no interest in other nations, although I suspect the south west regions will be supporting Spain tonight.

The sun continues to shine everyday. Everywhere is yellow and very dry. No matter who you talk to all they want is rain. After many years of bad summers one would think we would be grateful for this wall to wall sunshine, but as it hasn't rained now for months it is time for some rain. Other regions of France have had severe thunderstorms but we have just missed them all.

Rob has fixed a hose pipe to give a gentle cooling mist.

The farmers were very fortunate earlier last month to have a good hay making period but since then they have had to start giving the cows supplementary feed as the grass is not growing. Our neighbours have found their milk yield down by 250l over 2 days (the milk tanker comes every 2 days) which soon adds up to a considerable loss, put that with the additional feed they are using - the economies of farming are very susceptible to the weather.

Other neighbours with a gift shop in the local town are not benefitting from the good weather either as they find tourists are seeking out cool terraces or swimming pools rather than visiting historic towns. They are due to take part in a Mediaeval Fete on Wednesday and will be in costume, they break out in a sweat just talking about their costumes.

Not all is doom and gloom in the countryside. The cherries are ripening on the trees and we are lucky to have two white cherry trees on neighbouring land and have harvested a few for our own consumption, it would be a shame to leave them for the birds, although I did see the cows nibbling at them earlier today.

I made some into ice cream yesterday a lovely way to use them, so summery, (see cookinglizzie for recipe)

We are now harvesting a variety of vegetables from the garden everyday. The heat has caused some of the lettuce to bolt, but I have cut out the tops of many of those threatening to go to seed and braised them in chicken stock adding some fresh peas just at the end - a good way to use the lettuce. The raspberries have been particularly good and as well as eating them fresh every day we also have some in the freezer for later in the year. The blueberries are ripening a few at a time and I am putting them in the freezer for use later. Everyday I get about 60g not many but the bag is filling up.

The red currents are beginning to ripen so a pavlova with a mix of raspberries, red currants and blueberries will be on the menu soon.

The courgettes are beginning to grow - I think they appreciate all the watering we have done each evening and we have had our first meal of purple sprouting broccoli. The melon and cucumber plants which I was sure were dying last week have suddenly put on a growing spurt and are producing flowers and there is evidence of small immature fruits forming. The tomatoes are also enjoying the warm weather and most of the plants have small tomatoes forming, not long now and they will be ready to eat.

The only real problem in the vegetable garden at the moment is our resident mole who is determined to work his way up and down the rows and then when I am not looking across the rows as well. Never mind it means there are lots of earth worms in the soil which is a good.