Sunday, 25 December 2011

Christmas Eve Market in Pictures

Wishing you all a very happy Christmas.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Les chocolatiers

Ah Christmas is coming and shop windows never look better.

Whenever I stroll down the rue de la République in Sarlat, I'm always drawn to two Patisseries/Chocolatiers whose window dressing is a veritable work of art.

I reckon these windows are up there with some of the best Paris has to offer. They are simply beautiful. The skill and artistry needed to create them is a true talent. Jewelled vitrines indeed.

A little of what you fancy does you good. It really does.

Brioche de Noel, lauzes de Périgord, maybe a chocolate Santa.

A cheeky glass of Champagne perhaps?

Actually it's all too good to eat. Don't move a thing.

I took all these photographs last Friday evening except this bottom one which is a couple of years old, but included all the same as I'm really pleased with it. Now there's honesty.

I've been a bit neglectful of my blog in recent weeks. I'm still hammering away at the kitchen and busting a gut to finish it in time for Christmas. No pressure then.

Monday, 21 November 2011

Footballs and Box

Well I managed to temporarily drag myself away from the seemingly never ending kitchen renovation project and focus a little dans le jardin.

The continued run of exceptionally mild weather has given opportunity to plant without any thoughts of frost or dank weather. In an average year, the last planting out date is usually assumed to be around the 26th or 27th November, the French Saint days of Saint Séverin or Saint Jacques. The soil is still warm enough for root development, there's little or no transpiration and evaporation, all in all perfect. Don't tell the weather though. It may at, or ahead of script this year, but back in 2007 we were having a run of severe frosts at this time, lows dropping to -7 and -8C, not planting weather at all.

For some time, in fact every year, I seem to always find myself dissatisfied with the border up by the barn gable end. This year was no exception, the hollyhocks grew into dominant triffid monsters shading and dwarfing everything else, reaching eight feet in some cases, way too successful, so I've dug them out, au revoir! But what a palaver. Seems the end of the tap root is pretty much equidistant south to the top growth north.

So time for a change. I've been picking up box balls whenever they've been available at a discount, although even then the price always feels stratospheric. I've planted a lot of Salvia 'monrovia blue', Lavender 'grosso' and two Cardoons that I started from seed at the end of the Summer.

To echo the 'boule' theme, and to get rid of the excess mortar I'd been using in the kitchen, I stuffed three different sized footballs full of it, waited twenty four hours and then peeled the balls away. Looks quite good. They needed wire brushing though. Rough them up and get rid of reverse imprints saying stuff like 'FIFA' and 'the road to Wembley'. They just need to 'weather' now.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Parasol Pine

I planted this Parasol pine, pinus pinea, exactly five years ago in the same spot where I lost a great Walnut tree which had blown down following a nasty little Autumn storm that avoided the weather forecaster's gaze, intensified in the Bay of Biscay and whipped across southern France.

It's grown quickly, much swifter than I thought it would, keeping a good, by and large, well rounded shape.

This is a tree that suits the landscape here, you see them all over southern France and across into Italy and many other parts of Europe, so when I was deliberating as to what to plant on either side of the path leading to the river, It made total sense that I plumped for another four of them. They are pretty small, but dug in with a bit of bone meal, I'm hoping they'll establish quite quickly.

As an extra precaution against wind rock, I've hammered in stakes which face the direction of the prevailing wind, so this should keep things stable over the coming Winter.

Just as a note, this is the tree that yields pinenuts often found in mediterranean cooking. It takes many years however, before it is mature enough to develop the edible seed, so I may be waiting some time before my first harvest!

Monday, 24 October 2011

Rouge Encore

Is it possible for a foreigner abroad to look more at home than the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) which cloaks the house and rockface just a little way opposite from here? I think not.

Mid- Autumn always leaves this falaise napped in crimson, a beautiful sight in the late October sun.

I've heard it described as a 'chimney reacher', but it left the chimney behind on it's way to the sky.

I've also seen it described as not a plant for the laissez-faire gardener. Pourqui? I put mine in seven years ago, did nothing and it romped away. That'll do.

But it's a two horse race this October rouge stardom thing. Sumac looks positively illuminous with the light from behind.

Even the Sun God is mellowing as the light lowers.

This has been one of the warmest and driest starts to Autumn in SouthWest France. That said, there was a ground frost a few nights ago and this evening the skies have finally opened, not a bad thing.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Bloody Wild Boar

There's a lot of wild Boar in this corner of France. Their numbers seem to have exploded in recent years, there's not a day goes by when I don't hear them squealling and grunting over in the woods on the other side of the river. I wish they would stay there!

Boar do enormous amounts of damage in their quest for food. At this time of year they are particularly active as they search out nuts, berries and various grubs. Autumn is nature's bounty, they know that. Winter is fast approaching, they know that too.

It's the 'grubbing' aspect of their behaviour which causes the real damage. They merrily churn up large areas of turf to find chafer grubs ( another pain-in-the-arse pest of which I have too many) and other protein rich tasty morsels, and all with the finesse of a drunk driving a plough.

They've torn swathes of the field up away from the houses, and it'll take hours and hours for me to reorganise and stamp the turf back down. I'm going to wait a few days before I attempt it. The ground's so dry at the moment, It has only rained twice since the beginning of September, so if Wednesday's promised forecast comes true, Thursday will be spent piecing the jigsaw back together.

They could easily come back and do it all again though. They've ravaged some of my neighbour's gardens. It ain't funny.

This year's continued shortage of rainfall has contributed to the Boar creating so much havoc. They seem to be travelling further and further to find food and have no problem crossing the little river Beune which runs through here as it is at a record low.