Sunday, 23 October 2016

Fairytale Forest

Swamp Paperbark Melaleuca ericafolia, their contorted trunks and dark canopies making them look like a forest from a fairytale. I can see my mother and sister (or is it my aunt?) in the middle, but can I reach them?

On Sundays our posts have an Australian theme. If you would like to read more of them click here.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Troglodyte House

We love the look of this troglodytic house in Souzay-Champigny. Virtually all of the house is troglo, with the front facade meeting the natural rock on the left hand corner. I've no idea how many rooms there are. It could go a long way underground into the limestone cliff. We love the way the rock is not hacked away to neaten it up. It is more that the building moulds itself around the contours of the rock. At the back, up the top out of view, is a sun terrace.


A la cuisine hier: Pumpkin roasted, puréed, divided into two batches and put in the freezer. 

Cooked apples suspended in the jelly bag in preparation for making apple jelly. Simon has just opened the last jar of last year's. 

I've opened a jar of Carrot Honey. I bought it off our friend Jean-Luc, who is a cheese producer not an apiarist, but he sells other local producers' stuff in his boutique. I laughed when he pointed out the carrot honey to me. I'd never seen honey labelled as coming from carrot before, but he assured me the field the bees had been visiting was nearby. I think there is a farmer who grows vegetable seeds in the area so I am guessing that's where the honey came from. I don't think it's from wild carrot, but I could be wrong. The honey is quite dark, liquid, with a distinctive taste, quite strong and warm, with citrus notes.

Lunch was a huge plate of various salads -- celeri rémoulade, carottes rapée, roast beetroot in vinaigrette; 3 bean mix, sweet corn, butter lettuce, potato salad, tomatoes, kimchi, a boiled egg. All veggies organic from the market, all salads except beans and corn made from scratch including vinaigrette and creamy mayonnaise. Followed by a homegrown Red Delicious apple. Not my favourite variety of apple. They look magnificent with their shiny crimson skin, but even straight off the tree they lack flavour, the skin is tough and the flesh soft.

Dinner was Simon's beef, beer and barley stew, from the freezer.


Au jardin hier: I've finished the autumn mow so the whole orchard and vegetable garden has been cut at least roughly for the season (except for some strips I've deliberately left for wildlife shelter).

Everybody is out madly completing outdoor maintenance tasks. We have at least another week of dry mild weather and no one can believe their luck. The first half of November is normally wet, so it all has to get done before then.


Computer Woes: Our main office computer died about 10 days ago (mother board apparently). Simon ordered a replacement and it arrived yesterday. Unfortunately the package has been dropped somewhere en route and the computer damaged to the extent that it won't switch on. As yet no response from the suppliers regarding what they are prepared to do about it. Meanwhile we are sporadically trying to do Windows updates on my laptop. Unfortunately we don't have the spare three days it seems to require.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Goose on the Loose

This goose was wandering around the carpark of the new service station in Perusson/Loches the other day. It appeared to be perfectly relaxed and unbothered by its solitude and odd situation. I suspect it was most at risk from being dinner for the gypsy encampment across the road rather than being run over. I've no idea where it came from and who might be missing it.


A la cuisine hier: Oven baked crumbed chicken breasts served with chopped salad of purple skinned peppers, a bit of onion, tomato, sweet corn, beans and chilli. The crumb was flavoured with cumin and garlic. The peppers, tomatoes and onion came from the BioBoys and the Aged One. The sweet corn and beans were canned (thank you Elizabeth and Colin for the can of mixed beans).

Vegetable and coconut curry from the freezer served with plain boiled rice (thank you Tim and Pauline for most of the vegetables).


Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for Wolf Spiders Pardosa spp, ground dwelling, fast moving sight hunters.

A new entry has been added for Eurasian Kingfisher Alcedo atthis, a gorgeous little bird.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Sunburn and Weaving in the Vines

In mid-September we had the opportunity to go out into the vines with Vouvray winemaker Alexandre Monmousseau. He took us up to his parcels at Montgouverne.

Vines that have had their long tendrils trimmed.

These two parcels are where he experiments with new techniques, so one of the things we talked about was his trials of plaiting the vine tendrils. Instead of clipping the long growing tendrils of the vines in summer as is the normal practice, he is experimenting with winding the tendrils around one another horizontally along the top support wire.

Alexandre demonstrating plaiting (or trimming -- difficult to tell which...).

The growing tendrils are trimmed because the plant diverts energy into them that the winemaker wants the plant to direct to the fruit, and the extra leaves cause a bit too much shade for the ripening grapes. However, Alexandre is intrigued by a new idea that the tendrils are the vines antennae, sensing environmental conditions that it should respond to. The theory is that if the tendrils are left to grow they will in fact stop of their own accord. However, they are a nuisance to the vineyard workers if they are left to wave about at head height, so they are gathered together in bundles and plaited around one another and the top wire. It's quite a lot of work but it is just swapping one task (summer trimming) for another, slightly later in the season (plaiting).

 Vines with plaited tendrils.

In French the technique is referred to as tressée, which translates as 'plaited', but Alexandre couldn't remember 'plaited' so we suggested 'woven', which he got on with better. This will be the second vintage from these plaited vines and so far he is very happy with them. 

 The brown grapes are sunburnt. The green grapes are in good condition.

The summer was hot and dry, unusually so, and one of the other things Alexandre showed us was the sunburnt grapes. They have been frizzled by the endless sun, long before they are ripe, and are ruined. But with any luck the rest of the grapes are better than average.

The rootstock these Chenin Blanc grapes are grafted to is called Vitis riparia 'Gloire de Montpellier'. V. riparia is one of the grape vine species native to America that was brought in to introduce resistance to phylloxera. 'Gloire de Montpellier' is a variety developed for French conditions from that species.

We also talked about other winemakers in the area. Alain le Capitaine, just down the hill from the Chapelle Saint-Georges in Rochecorbon, was very highly spoken of by Alexandre. Apparently he is a nice bloke and a very fine winemaker. Sometimes, admitted Alexandre, his wine is better than Chateau Gaudrelle's!

Another winemaker we mentioned didn't come out of the discussion so well. I won't name and shame, but when we said to Alexandre we thought this person's wine was really terrible he agreed. He said the guy just doesn't have the passion, but inherited the winery from his father and grew up with the expectation that he would be a winemaker. His father, who Alexandre says made superb wines, is still alive, but retired. It's a shame all round, a tale of a misdirected life and the power of family expectations.

It's always a treat to get out amongst the vines with Alexandre and I always learn a lot.


French Expression: Two sentences which are jolly useful in discussions -- 'Je vois ce que tu veux dire' ('I see what you mean') and 'On ne voit pas l'intérêt' ('We don't see the point'). 

The first is literally 'I see this that you want to say'. To indicate you mean such and such or to ask what someone meant you use the form 'to want to say' in French. Where I might use the abbrieviated Latin 'ie' in written English, in French I would use 'c'est à dire' ('that is to say'), which can be used in writing or speech. 

The second sentence is literally 'One doesn't see the interest'. I would use 'on' in this case to distance myself slightly from the statement, so as to sound more polite or less blunt. 'On' translates literally as the English pronoun 'one', but in French is used much more frequently and much less formally, especially in spoken French. 'L'intérêt' is 'interest' in the sense of 'value', 'benefit', 'gain' or 'point'. To say that something is 'd'intérêt' is often to indicate that it is advantageous, especially financially, in French. 

The above is my understanding of these expressions, but as anyone who knows me is aware, my French is dodgy. Feel free to correct or clarify in the comments below.


Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for Greater Mouse-eared Bat Myotis myotis. At 13cm this is the biggest bruiser in the Loire Valley bat bunch.


A la cuisine hier: Penne pasta with homemade tomato sauce and sprinkled with proper parmesan cheese. Followed by a homegrown Golden Delicious. One of our Golden Delicious apples produces the most beautiful looking fruit with pale creamy yellow skin and a pink blush. A good crisp, juicy, sweet apple.

Flash fried steak (cut the French way, with the grain, and from the flank) with potato wedges, steamed cauliflower and blue cheese sauce. The potatoes from the Aged One, the cauliflower from the BioBoys. The sauce was a little box of Bridélice bechamel with the left over roquefort from yesterday. Dessert was canned pineapple chunks with the last of the whipped coconut cream.

The brined onions are now doused in a hot pickling liquor made from cider vinegar and sugar and flavoured with cinnamon, allspice, caraway and cardamom. The onions have gone rather soft which is a shame. I think it would be better done with banana shallots because they are bigger and wouldn't soften so quickly. I wouldn't want them any sourer, but Simon thinks they are a bit sweet. He isn't keen on the spice combo either.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

My Back Pages: Simon's T-Shirt Archive (3)

This T-shirt dates from 1998, and was bought at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts on Memorial Day.

AmJam was a celebration of American music lasting the whole week-end, but I was only there for the Sunday day. I still managed to see Los Lobos, Arlo Guthrie, Sweet Honey in the Rock (I had to miss the Staples Singers to do so :(  ), and Eddie Palmieri. The full line up for the three days is here. I was excited (almost beyond belief) that we parked in the Watergate Building, a place mythical in my childhood.

The dirty mark circled in red is Robert Cray's signature. Somewhere, I also have one of his guitar pics (plectrum...) but at the moment it is still in with stuff. I took the photo below on the same day.


Loire Valley Nature: A new entry for Daubenton's Bat Myotis daubentonii has been added. Look out for their little pink noses if you want to identify them.

A photo has been added to the entry for Bat Surveying in Indre et Loire, in case you were wondering what the bats had for dinner.


Au jardin hier: The fog didn't lift until after lunch so I waited until 4pm to go down to the orchard. We've obviously had another frost in the last few days as the paulownia and the Chasselas grape vines have been frosted. 

I picked the last of the Black Hamburg grapes and I think I've got most of the walnuts. They clearly have nuts inside as two of them have been opened on the tree by some creature. I've never had the walnuts eaten on the tree before as far as I know. I picked up about half a bucket of perfectly useable windfall apples, planted half a row of leeks and sowed some crimson clover. 

The first of next year's orchid leaf rosettes has appeared.


A la cuisine hier: Supermarket potato and leek soup with some roquefort cheese crumbled on top in a quite successful attempt to customise and improve it, followed by a homegrown reine de reinette apple.

A grilled pork chop served with mashed potato and steamed carrots. Dessert was a slice of broyé aux framboises (a sort of shortbread and raspberry jam sandwich) with whipped coconut cream. I bought the broyé at the boulangerie and told Sophie behind the counter that I would be serving it with the coconut cream. She agreed that une note de coco would be perfect. She also had a bag of ten of yesterday's croissants for sale for €4.50 -- a total bargain. I said I would make croissants aux amandes with them. She suggested jambon fromage would be good too and made sure I knew they could be frozen. 

I laboriously peeled a kilo of little onions and put them in brine, the first step of pickling them. The onions are half my own homegrown, half from the Aged One. 

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

The Chapel of Saint George, Rochecorbon

When my friend Suzanne was here in mid-September we took her to visit Chateau Gaudrelle. Alexandre Monmousseau, the winemaker and owner, made himself available for us and took us up to the vines to begin the visit. On the way up the hill we passed the Chapelle de Saint Georges and Simon remarked that we had never been inside. Alexandre immediately did a U-turn and popped in to Alain le Capitaine's winery, where the key for the chapel is kept. Key in hand, back we went to gain entry to the chapel.

 The bell tower, and, if you look carefully, some of the quoin stones
 on the main body of the chapel are reused Merovingian carved blocks.

The Chapel of Saint George is an 11th century building, enlarged in the 12th century by reworking the choir and adding a square pyramid topped 15 metre bell tower. The chapel is immediately adjacent to the cliff and hides an oratory cut from the rock itself, perhaps as early as the 5th century, but certainly by the 7th century. Inside there is a 12th century fresco, 13th and 14th century wall paintings and a small 13th century stained glass window.

 The troglodytic oratory.

Fresco is a technique where pigments mixed with water are painted on to fresh wet render. Wall painting is a technique where the pigment is diluted with water and a binder (usually egg) and painted on a dry wall. The first technique is much more resilient than the second because the paint and the render chemically bind more effectively as they dry. The oldest painting in the chapel seems to be at least partly done in the fresco technique. The more recent paintings are the second technique. Fresco is very rare in the Touraine and it's a much more technically demanding art form.

The painting on the left (below) is the earlier 12th century work, showing Christ washing the Apostle's feet. Stylistically it is typical of its time, with muscles and folds plainly marked in ochre and a very restricted palette of colours. Below this scene you can see the remains of an angel, and above there is a frieze of fantastical animals and Greek keys, also typical of the period. This is all that is left of the original decorative scheme of the chapel.

 Fresco and wall painting side by side.

The painting on the right is the remaining half of a Last Supper. The meal has been served in the medieval fashion, where all the dishes are shared and each plate is shared by two diners. This painting dates from the early 13th century and slightly overlaps the earlier work. The palette is richer, with green and lapis lazuli blue in addition to the ochres and white. The attitudes of the subjects are more natural and realistic too. The image is tightly co-ordinated by the device of the regular arches above the Apostles and the drapery of the table cloth below them. Above the arches is a band of architectural ornamentation representing Jerusalem.

 Angels sounding their trumpets.

On the opposite (south) wall is the remains of a Last Judgement. All that can be still be seen are the angels with their trumpets and some decorative elements. This dates from the 14th century.

The entry door.

The original entry to the chapel was in the western end, but in the 18th century the construction of a house which butts up to the church destroyed the porch and the door into the chapel was moved its current position in the southern wall. Evidence of an earlier building on the site comes from carved stones from the Merovingian period (8th century) embedded in the exterior walls.

 An angel and a king from an obscure Bible story.

The stained glass window depicts the story of High Priest and King of Salem, Melchizedek, a contemporary of Abraham.

 I've no idea what this is or how old or original to the chapel it is.

For more information read our friends Niall and Antoinette's blog posts about their visit to the chapel a few years ago. They wrote about the wall paintings, the stained glass and the Merovingian carved stones.


Learn Botany and Mycology: For readers living in the Touraine du sud who are interested in botany and/or mycology (and would like to practice their French), you could do worse than join the Association de botanique et de mycologie de Sainte Maure de Touraine. I've belonged for some years and it is a very friendly and welcoming club with a lot of expertise. Twenty or so outings per year are organised, usually on weekend afternoons, but sometimes whole days and sometimes mid-week. More details are available here. If you are really keen you could even do a botany MOOC and be mentored by expert members of the Association.


Loire Valley Nature: A new entry has been added for Lesser Horseshoe Bat Rhinolophus hipposideros, a small species that uses the many caves (abandoned underground limestone quarries) in the Touraine to hibernate.

Photos have been added to the entry on Bat Surveying in Indre et Loire. Chateau tower roofspaces and caves are great habitat for bats.