Saturday, 30 January 2010

Pézenas market


Blue sky and a blue awning ….

DSC01334 hams and eggs … DSC01336 olives and dried fruit ….
DSC01335 hazelnuts and walnuts … DSC01337 cheeses and sausage …
DSC01349 more cheeses and sausages from Corsica … DSC01341
hats and scarves ….
DSC01350 sunny balconies … DSC01348

and hot chocolate in the sun.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Sun, cloud and essential #2

Some days have been warm and bright, almost like spring, with the sun casting sharp shadows ….

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and some days have been cold and grey …


… as it was yesterday when we went the Domaine d’Estève at Roquessels to buy wine – this was the view from there, looking back towards Gabian, which is behind one of the hills in the middle distance. 

In the garden we’ve cleared the ground where the pepper plants were last summer, ready to spread goat manure, and spread manure on another bed which we’ll use for tomatoes this year.  After working in the garden yesterday we were glad to come home to a hot meal of alubias beans given to us by our friend Drew in Navarra – they’re black when they’re dried, but turn reddish brown when cooked.  I soaked them overnight then cooked them for about an hour.  Then I added onion fried in olive oil, a finely chopped chorizo pepper, chopped garlic, some lardons (bacon pieces), some leftover cooked sausage and tomato purée made with our tomatoes.  We ate it with some slices of fried black pudding, chopped garlic and parsley and Aveyronnais bread from the village baker.

DSC01262 dried alubias – we’ll use some for seed. DSC01269

Olive trees

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The road to Mas Rolland, where we went to fetch goat manure this week, passes a row of lovely old olive trees with beautiful twisted trunks like sculptures.

Essential batterie de cuisine #2 – espresso coffee maker

About thirty years ago my sister was living in Italy and brought us back one of these espresso coffee machines when they were still quite difficult to find outside Italy.  We still use it every day – it’s showing signs of use but it works perfectly.  It’s a very simple system – you fill the bottom half of the macchinetta (little machine) with water and fill the middle section with strong Italian fine-ground coffee, then heat until the water boils and is forced upwards through the coffee grounds and the coffee pours into the top section – magic!


This is our original thirty-year old coffee maker – much used and much travelled.  For years, when we went on holiday, we would take it with us and if we couldn’t find a café which sold good coffee (and this can happen even in France!) we would stop somewhere and make our own on a camping gaz stove.  So its battered, burnt, used-looking state is the result of years of gas flames, barbecues and campfires… but we still use it every morning to make our breakfast coffee.  One of the characteristics of this way of making coffee is that the coffee makers work best when they are full, so that this one (a six-espresso cup size) is fine for our two large breakfast cups of coffee, but we’ve found we need different sizes for different occasions:


So we have two 9-cup (one made of stainless steel), a 6-cup, a 3-cup and a 1-cup size.  I think this means we can make any number of perfect cups of coffee! 

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


This morning we went up into the hills to Mas Rolland to collect a trailer-load of manure – the first of several we hope.  Last year we did this and it made a huge difference to the soil, and its ability to retain moisture especially.

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It was cold and grey.  The hillsides looked dry and wintry, with just the evergreen plants and trees, like these holm oaks in the foreground above, contrasting with the rocks.  The milking goats are still indoors in their winter quarters but this billy with amazing horns was outside watching us.

DSC01187 We now have the first pile of manure in the garden ready to spread on the ground and we’ll go to fetch some more later in the week.  In spite of the cloudy, cold weather, it feels as though we’ve started the new gardening year now, and that’s a good feeling.  The artichoke plants  - just visible in the background here – have suffered from the cold, but they should recover.  Everything else looks fine.

Winter harvest

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We picked our last cauliflower and dug up a couple of leeks.  Our neighbour gave us some beetroot and some celery stalks.  I put the celery into the dish I made when we got home, with haricot beans, pancetta, carrots and onions, which we ate with toast and tapenade and a glass of red wine.  A very warming lunch!

Friday, 15 January 2010

What a difference a day makes ….

Yesterday it rained for twenty-four hours:


I can see this chimney from our top-floor window and it tells me whether or not there will be rain – if the wind is coming from the south the clouds come over the sea and we usually have rain, although not always as heavy as this. If the wind comes from the north, the smoke is blown the other way and we have dry weather because the rain from any clouds which do appear has already fallen in the mountains inland.

Today was almost spring-like, with warm sunshine and a north wind silvering the leaves of the olive trees at the edge of this vineyard at the top of the hill above our garden:


In the garden most of the plants had survived the cold nights well:

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Spanish habas (left), 2nd sowing of broad beans (far left) and first sowing of broad beans above.
DSC01143 Cabbages


This almond tree looks a lot better against a blue sky, rather than last week’s grey one, even though it won’t have blossom for another couple of weeks. First signs of spring: a mimosa tree in a sheltered garden in the village has yellow flower buds about to open. The almond blossom usually follows very soon afterwards.

Haiti earthquake

The catastrophic events in Haiti have been on my mind for the past few days – how can one small country have to put up with so many disasters and problems? There seems so little that individuals can do but we can donate towards the aid effort at the websites of the British Red Cross, the American Red Cross or the French organisation Action Contre la Faim.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Impersonation – Kokopelli’s name misappropriated

I’ve had an email from Kokopelli warning of misuse of its name on the Internet. The Association Kokopelli is an organisation pledged to maintaining plant diversity and organic standards in seed and plant production and distribution. It has been the target of law suits in France by commercial seed producers who do not want it to continue its work. Now it has been targeted again by the seed company Bamaux which has bought the rights to the name ‘kokopelli’ so that if you enter the word into the Google, Voila and Orange search engines the first item to appear is one of the Bamaux strains of tomato seeds. Websites and blogs which have Google advertisements will also find that Bamaux appears rather than the Association Kokopelli.

Kokopelli registered the name of the association when it was founded in the Ardèche in southern France in 1999, but, as the email says:

D’un point de vue éthique, nous avons refusé de déposer en avril 1999, en tant que marque commerciale, le nom Kokopelli qui est un symbole culturel millénaire chez les Amérindiens.

[From an ethical point of view, we refused to register as a trademark the name Kokopelli which is an age-old cultural symbol of the American Indians.]

Now it seems that Bamaux has registered the name as a trademark and its ‘tomate kokopelli’ has the registered trademark sign next to its name on the website. Big business and big money appear to have trampled over this small organisation. Association Kokopelli so far does not suggest how it can fight this e-threat. It simply wants to warn unsuspecting Internet users that others have hi-jacked its name, and I am passing this warning on. It’s difficult to see what can be done, as the Kokopelli e-mail concludes:

Il est donc clair que le "pacifisme" a des limites! De même pour la tolérance. Que peut faire un tolérant face à un intolérant? C'est l'éternelle question.

[It is therefore clear that ‘pacifism’ has limits! And so has tolerance. What can a tolerant person do against an intolerant one? This is the eternal question.

You can read more about this (in French) on the Association Kokopelli blog here.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Cold, cold, cold …

Snow fell here yesterday – a rare occurrence, just light showers of snowflakes drifting down on the freezing north wind.

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In the garden this morning we found a few little pockets of snow remaining amongst the straw we put around the broad beans to protect them. The broad bean plants look a bit sad. They were all doing so well, but they’ve been badly affected by the cold nights we’ve had. If these leaves don’t recover the plants will probably grow up again from the base… I hope.

Some cold garden images …

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Fallen passiflora leaves frozen to the table and our neighbour’s almond tree silhouetted against the clouds. It’s hard to believe that within about a month this tree should be blossoming.

A warming soup


It’s hard to believe, too, that we often eat lunch in the garden, in sunshine, in January. Today we came home as soon as we could to this warming velouté of mushroom and squash (the recipe is on this French/Greek blog). It was delicious with Aveyronnais bread from our local boulangerie.

The work that needs doing in the garden – mostly clearing ground so that we can put goat manure on it – will have to wait until the weather gets warmer. It was still minus 2 C at 11.30 a.m. today – that’s much too cold to garden!

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Hibernation, and the first of an occasional series

When the weather’s like this …

DSC00995 DSC00998 We don’t usually get mist here, but we did today.

we go to the garden to pick lettuce, lamb’s lettuce, cauliflowers, leeks, chard and herbs, but it’s too cold and damp to spend a lot of time there.

Spending more time in the house means we’ve been thinking more about cooking and the kitchen, so I’m starting an occasional series of the things that we feel make up our essential batterie de cuisine or kitchen equipment.

Essential batterie de cuisine – 1: A knife

I’m not sure yet how many of these essentials there will be, and I don’t want to rank them all, but the most important for me is a very good knife.


Ever since I was eighteen I’ve had a good kitchen knife and a steel to sharpen it. I bought this one about five or six years ago and it’s the best one I’ve ever had. It’s heavy with a comfortable handle and a curved blade. I use it to cut meat and vegetables and to chop herbs and garlic. The curved blade is essential for the rocking motion you need for chopping. It needs to be very sharp – sharp knives are safer than blunt ones as you have more control. A good knife will also be expensive – at least 30 to 40 euros (or pounds sterling) – but it will last a lifetime and will be worth every centime/penny. If I had to choose just one kitchen implement to take to a desert island it would be this knife.

A few other knives ….


The large knife at the top (above) was my first knife which I’ve had for forty years – as I said, they last a lifetime and this one still looks as it did then, apart from the nice worn effect on the wooden handle. The sharpening steel in the first picture came with it and I use it regularly. It is said that the same person should always sharpen a knife as everyone does it differently and it’s better for the blade to sharpen it with the same action every time. Lo Jardinièr uses these knives, but I’m always the one who sharpens them. When I started using my first set of knives I was afraid of their sharpness and even used to have nightmares about them, but experience has shown me that you are far more likely to cut yourself with a blunt knife than with a sharp one.

The small black-handled knives are two of a set of three we bought for 10 euros at the market in Narbonne a few years ago. They’re useful for peeling vegetables and slicing charcuterie and cheese, and they need regular sharpening too, but they could never replace a good large kitchen knife.

Buying a knife

When you buy a knife you should try holding it to make sure it feels comfortable to you. It should feel quite heavy as the weight helps you to cut with it. It should be of good quality and expensive – it’s a lifetime investment. You can buy and use cheap saucepans and chopping boards, but you need a good knife. It should be big enough – with a blade 18 to 20 cm long. And remember to buy a sharpening steel as well – you’ll want to use it so much it won’t stay sharp for long! And never put a good kitchen knife in the dishwasher.

Friday, 1 January 2010








This Occitan new year wish is especially appropriate for gardeners as it (roughly) means ‘good year with many seeds’, or ‘a fruitful year’.  Happy gardening everyone!

[the sunflower photo was taken in June, not today!]