Saturday, 30 July 2016

Free Potpourri

One day a few weeks ago I was waiting in the carpark on the Mail in Loches for Simon to arrive in Célestine with our clients for the day. I was rather early and occupied myself by taking a few photos of the location, including several shots of some spectacular roses in full bloom and tumbling down the retaining wall of the Royal Citadel.

After about five or ten minutes of this a well dressed couple in late middle age appeared and started up the steps. Halfway up they stopped and peered over the balustrade. They could clearly see something they really wanted in the gap between the stairs and the retaining wall. I was far enough away that I couldn't quite hear what they were saying. I managed to catch him saying '...sac plastique...' and seconds later, after rummaging in her handbag, she pulled out a plastic bag. Then they started harvesting dried fallen roses. I took a surreptitious picture.

My guess is they had a wedding coming up in the family...

Friday, 29 July 2016

Steam Cleaning the Soil

I've been wanting to write about this machine for ages, but it is not easy to photograph. This photo is the best I've been able to manage. As you can see, it was taken from a moving vehicle (Célestine, in fact).

The place is the big market garden in the Cher Valley at Saint Martin le Beau. The sign on the machine says 'Delahaye [the name of the market gardeners]. In order to respect the environment this machine sanitises the soil with steam, naturally'. We often see it in action, trundling up and down the plots that will then have yet another crop of lettuce, lettuce, lettuce, Florence fennel, potatoes, celery, leeks or lettuce planted in them.

The way it works is that dry superheated steam is injected into the soil under low pressure to a specified depth, depending on the crop to be planted. The soil temperature is raised to 80-85°C and 'cleaned' of weeds, fungi and other pests whilst preserving the qualities needed to raise healthy crops. The soil has to be prepared by being ploughed to a fine tilth before the steamer goes over it, to make sure penetration is sufficient and consistent.

The 'steam clean' allows a non-selective disinfection of the soil and a rapid rotation of crops. It is versatile because there is apparently no development of resistance to the treatment. It's simple to use and doesn't involve special training to deal with pesticides. The manufacturers of the machine claim that it gives better crops both in quantity and quality and allows earlier crops due to the heat being retained in the soil. The technique does not involve any danger to the user, plants or soil. The treatment kills weeds, fungi, nematodes, soil dwelling insect larvae, bacteria and viruses.

This all sounds excellent, but nowhere can I find any research into what good bacteria and fungi the steam also kills. I also wonder if some organisms will eventually develop a tolerance to the heat. Nevertheless, it is probably on balance better than using the cocktail of pesticides that much of our fruit and vegetables are exposed to.

Further Reading: CM Regero Industries (in French).

Thursday, 28 July 2016

The Restoration Progresses at Azay-le-Rideau

The major restoration of the Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau, a three year project due to be finished next year seems to be right on track. The main wing has emerged from its scaffolding cocoon and is looking very spiffy indeed. (To see the work being done this time last year, go to our blog post here.)

The main staircase has been revealed and now it's the turn of the right hand wing to be covered up and minutely inspected and restored by the conservators.

This year the Centre de Monuments Nationaux has been calling for donations to help restore the highly decorative metal finials (Fr. épis de faîtage) on the pepperpot roofs and gable ends of the chateau. The campaign is called 'Ma pierre à l'édifice' (literally, 'my stone to the building'), a phrase that means 'a contribution'. The finials are a rare survival and will cost €10 000 each to restore. Half of the money has already been raised and it is planned to restore four of the finials.

The finials are about six metres high and appear to have been made in the first half of the 19th century, but incorporating much older elements. They are suffering from rust and other corrosions, and need consolidation and repair. The first stage is to identify the different metals they are made of. This will be done by the guild of master roofers, who have the knowhow to work with these metals and will also consolidate the fixations. Then they will be carefully cleaned and treated with a product to prevent the rust and corrosion returning.

To read more about the Chateau of Azay-le-Rideau, click here for our other posts on the subject.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016


Simon took this photo because he was amused that I appeared to be wearing an outfit carefully chosen to blend in with the surroundings. 

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Cote Cour Restaurant, Azay-le-Rideau

Azay-le-Rideau is an attractive village on the Indre River. For such a small town there are a lot of restaurants to choose from (at least fifteen in a town of 3100 residents). As far as we are concerned by far the best restaurant in town is Coté Cour, situated right by the gates of the chateau.

Pavé de merlu, céréales gourmandes et petits légumes.
Hake, gourmet grains and diced vegetables.

It is run by husband and wife team Fréd in the kitchen and Sandrine doing front of house. He's from Corsica, she's from Paris. They live above the restaurant. Both of them speak reasonable English.

Duo de melon et tomates, tranche de jambon cru.
Duo of melon and tomatoes, slice of air-dried ham.

The menu is limited and focused on fresh local produce. It's a mixture of year-round staples and dishes that come and go as the seasons wax and wane. It is one of the few restaurants in the area that we can happily take vegetarians. Fréd only needs to be asked and he will whip up something delicious and plant-based. He told me once that he thinks French chefs should take diners who prefer plant-based dishes much more seriously than they currently do, and I'm sure he enjoys the challenge of creating something new that makes the diner happy.

Tranches de gigot de porc et légumes au wok.
Slices of leg of pork and stir-fried vegetables.

Salade d'épinards, magrets et oranges.
Spinach, fat duck breast and orange salad.

Fréd in his surprisingly small kitchen.
Unlike several French chefs I know, Fréd is always ready to be photographed in his kitchen and does not put me off with 'oh no, it's too messy in here at the moment...'.

The interior of the restaurant.
Sandrine designed the interior and a local artist created the decorations on the light fittings.

The lunch menu recently.

Sandrine at the reception desk.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Pasticceria Marchesi

Mondays in Milan / Les lundis en Lombardie

I photographed this building in Milan last year because I am interested in sgraffito. At the time I had no idea that it was one of the oldest and best known pastry shops, confectioners and cafes in the city. Consequently we didn't go in, and I guess that's our loss.

According to their website, the business was started in 1824, operating from this 18th century building. In the beginning they just made and sold cakes, biscuits, pastries and confectionaries, but in 1900 the family expanded their operation to include a bar which served coffee, refreshments and cocktails. They have always prided themselves on their traditional manufacture of classic lines using fresh ingredients. Even today the products sold are made on the site, and the offices are out the back, allowing scrupulous quality control. Today the business is run by the grandson of the original owner, his wife and their children.

For the last twelve months we have written about the northern Italian city of Milan on Mondays. We think it is time to stop now, so this will be the last post regular post on the subject. To read our other posts on Milan click here.