Wednesday 30 April 2008

There's a light

over at the Frankenstein place.


Rained all day, blew a gale and I've not been outside until this evening. Let's hope it's better tomorrow, the grass is knee high already.

Tuesday 29 April 2008



A little less joyful, if that's possible.

The computer problems aren't really solved, more papered over. With the purchase of a new mouse and keyboard I can use an old machine and access the internet using XP or Linux as I fancy but I'm irritated more than anything about the peculiar problem with the other PC which has driven me to this and hate the feeling of fractured mail records, broken databases and data indiscriminately scattered around on a number of disks, only accessible by physical rewirings.

The weather has broken. We had a very pleasant warm weekend while Paul was here but now a lot of rain, some of it working its way through the roof, cold and gloomy when I should be outside getting stuff done.

I think the swallows may have given up and gone elsewhere. I've not seen them again for a couple of days.

The dump at St. Lo is reassuringly unreconstructed. I did a semi-annual trip today and took my five bin liners of unrecyclable rubbish and plastic waste to limbo. There was a school trip taking the tour while I was there but they were unimpressed by my Englishness and barely glanced my way as I hurled the bags over the precipice.

And I'm feeling very lonely and without any clear plans.

Sunday 27 April 2008

bluebell knoll

actually I'm not listening to the awesome Cocteau Twins but to the equally fab PJ Harvey - White Chalk which is possibly my most favourite album of the current time...



and I'm am pleased, actually thrilled, to report we have native bluebells in the orchard. A couple of years ago we noticed a single dying flower, now we have a small colony of the beautiful blue wonders. I will move a few down to closer to the house and hope to inject them into the beechwood but at least we have some in the meadows and I don't have to do a midnight burglary on the patch next to the Embranchement.

Monday 21 April 2008

Luscious = not!

I just realised I put the recipe blog entry on the wrong blog. That'll confuse anyone using a reader!


Sunday 20 April 2008

Every day is just like Sunday

A picture of Bagheera during the trip over, he looks grumpy and that's how I feel.

The weather this afternoon has been surprisingly, given the forecast, pleasant. Dry and warm but overcast and with some gusty winds that have whipped up a constant background roll of murmurous thunder.

So I've been outside, doing stuff. I've planted the oca and the ulluco, I've planned where to put the heritage Dwarf Red Kidney beans and a row of mange tout and I've been moving various perennials from a bed that has become overly weedy and out of control to the newly cleared land in the vegetable plot.

I found four Babington leeks, loads of Jerusalem artichokes, a good sized clump of Good King Henry which I divided to make two plants and plenty of comfrey, rhubarb and lovage. Even the cardoon seems to be making growth.

But I broke a spade, not a good one to be sure but the first tool I bought for gardening when I got here two years ago, I've lost the little planting trowel and I can't find the secateurs. Those last two items are similar enough that they might both be nestling in the same safe place that I found for them last autumn but they might just as easily been overlooked at some point during the winter close down and be buried under a pile of weeds and brambles somewhere rusted beyond all hope.

And the growling weather is making me nervous.

Saturday 19 April 2008

A lazy day

Nothing much has happened today. The weather was a little overcast, tending to showers and I felt I needed a day off.

In the last few days since Paul went back to the UK I've rotavated a couple of beds, one out near the potato patch and the other in the more deer secure back garden and planted out onions, shallots, crimson flowered broad beans and the carlin peas. I've also done a lot of lawn mowing in a vain attempt to get ahead of myself on this never-ending task.

Now I have to get a grip and get the other crops organised and on their way. I suffered a huge blow when we arrived back - the oca, which I had neglected and nurtured and finally triumphed with sufficient crop to make a planting store from last November have been entirely eaten by mice. The two varieties that I had managed to keep going for six or more years completely lost. I can get more to replace them but not this year and I'm berating myself for not taking better care of them, I really thought they were in a mouse free zone. I do have some cream coloured oca tubers, bought this season from Realseeds so they will be the nucleus of a new collection but what a fool I am.


I also have these to plant - Ulluco - a tuber from the high Andes, notably Peru and as it says in the Lost Crops of the Incas
"The future of ulluco (pronounced oo-yoo-koh) seems particularly bright. In the Andes, demand is on the increase, and its attractive tubers are likely to prove popular elsewhere. The plant is easy to grow, resists frost, is moderately drought tolerant, and produces reasonable yields in marginal soils."

I know a number of other bloggers have also taken tubers of these this year, all supplied by Realseeds, and I think most of them have already got theirs in the ground. I am hampered by indecision about the best way to get these started but have decided to put the biggest eight tubers directly into the heritage bed and the smallest four into pots in order to give them a better start. They sprouted despite being in the dark and cold of a fridge and the sprouts are a little fragile but ulluco are known for good storage capabilities and the tubers seem firm and healthy.

The other issue with these indigenous and long cultivated crops is that they may carry virus diseases and other problems to weaken their vigour. I had intended to attempt a test tube clean up but have left it too late. They will have to take their chances in the open and I will not plant that area with ulluco again for a considerable while, just in case.

Hard frosts have only just ceased here in Normandy and although there is no guarantee that there won't be more I think, fingers crossed, the worst is over. I just hope mice don't like the taste.

Wednesday 16 April 2008

Dandelion Time

They say you learn something new everyday and yesterday when someone mentioned Dandelion Jam (or Confiture Aux Fleurs De Pissenlits) I realised that my moment for the day had come. Dandelion wine was well known to me but I'd never heard of Dandelion Jam in my entire life.

Looking on the web I discovered I was probably the last to hear, there were many places with recipes for this new delicacy, sadly most of them copied from each other and few with any actual comments about the finished product. I am always suspicious of "country" recipes which call for a lot of citrus and sugar. Citrus and sugar make almost anything palatable and can hardly be called local cooking ingredients. Finally, there is no way that the ingredients as listed would ever create anything remotely resembling jam or jelly, there is nothing to make the liquor set. The best that might happen after the hour long boiling recommended would be a rather sticky thick syrup and by then any of the lighter flower perfumes would surely be lost.

Then I discovered this site written by a man who is a real enthusiast. When I stopped skimming his fascinating articles I found the recipe for Dandelion Syrup and was pleased to discover that his Grandmother used no oranges at all. She still used an inordinate amount of refined sugar but I suppose I should stop the guilt about that now. After all, I'm still taking three cubes in my morning coffee.

Reassured by that authentic sounding approach I decided to make a hybrid version and this is what I did:

Pick two litres by volume of lovely yellow dandelion heads, nipped off just behind the flower so you take no stalk. Leave for an hour or so to allow the tiny beetles time to make their escape, then use scissors to trim the yellow petals into a bowl. It doesn't matter if some little bits of green fall into the pile but make sure there are no lumpy bits of flower base or stalk there. From my flowers I collected 50g of petals. You don't need to wash the flowers if you've picked them from a clean field and if you didn't I doubt any amount of washing would put things right.

Put your petals in a large saucepan and cover with water. I was surprised that 1.5 litres seemed about right for this. You might try using just 1 litre for a more concentrated flavour. Chop up one well washed and ideally unwaxed orange, skin and all, into small pieces and add to the pot. Bring everything up to simmering temperature, keep on the heat for a minute then turn off the cooker, cover the pot and put the mixture to steep somewhere cool overnight.

Next day, strain off the liquid, pressing the residue well to collect the last drops of the precious juice. At this point I found I had about 1.2 litres. Rinse out your saucepan and put the dandelion juice back into it with the juice of one lemon and 1 kg. of sugar. This amount is part way between the amount recommended by Fran├žois-Xavier's Grannie and the much copied about recipe on the web.

Bring back to the boil, stirring until the sugar is dissolved, then simmer gently for 10 minutes. Bottle in sterilised glass bottles while hot and cover with tight fitting lids. Yield approx. 1.6 litres

So what's it like? As you might imagine it's rather delicately flavoured and very sweet but pleasant and flowery. Diluted with about four times its volume of water it makes a nice drink for a spring afternoon, I can imagine it in a white wine for a spring Kir and a spoonful from the bottle might soothe a sore throat.

Next year, perhaps, I'll use a little more lemon juice and some pectinated sugar and see if it can be set as a jelly. It would be divine in little pastry cases decorated with spring flowers. But that's for anther time.

dandelion syrup

Saturday 12 April 2008

Arrival and Settling in


We're back after a terrible journey via the tunnel with delays on the motorway there and then nearly four hours wait at the terminal for a train because of an earlier power cut. No matter, we arrived safely, the cat is alive and coping with the change of environment and France Telecom very efficiently reconnected the line within 36 hours of receiving our fault report.

With the help of a friend we made the repair request via which is the France Telecom online fault reporting service. This saved the problem of finding a working phone box and negotiating the touch menus before making contact with a call centre operative but of course is only of use if you have access to the internet via alternative means to your usual connection. This service worked for us.

Of course, having a renewed connection doesn't mean we're completely back in the swing of internet interaction - I rather enjoyed the sensation of no internet or telephone for a few days so blog fluency may take a moment or two to fully bloom again, not helped by the fact the computer is a long way away from the fire and it's cold out here.

Some progress has already been made in the garden, with the benefit of some clement weather all the potatoes have been planted in the newly rotavated patch destined for them. It was tremendously hard work and Paul carried the brunt of it, manhandling the machine up and down in the stony ground until it submitted and became friable soil. A french trenching tool made the planting rows and we popped the spuds in today, 160 of them in all, nine varieties from early Swift to late Pink Fir Apple. They're not planted deeply and will be covered with plastic to keep them warm and in the dark. The plan this year is to spray and spray and spray again to try to keep the blight away using traditional Bordeaux mixture, which I don't think is approved for organic use any more but something must be done.

If you click through on the picture below you can read the notes showing which row is planted with each variety of potato.


Thursday 3 April 2008

On our way


Such a long wait, but we're on our way back. I fear the telephone lines will be down so it's possible there will be no internet access for a week or two after Monday, which means no blogging but you won't miss me, I'm sure.

The picture above was taken when the cat and I first moved into the lovely farm which is our home, way back in the spring of 2006. I'd been before for a week or two at a time on my own but it was with fear and severe trepidation that I contemplated living there alone for months without any companions other than that faithful old cat. Now, after nearly three months of self inflicted residence in the UK I can't wait to get back.

Today I'm getting the white car serviced, and must write another enormous list of things to take, most of which will not fit into the space allowed, the small area not taken up by the accoutrements of an old and incontinent cat whose comfort must come first.

I'm extending invitations far and wide to friends, acquaintances, even strangers in the street to come over and see me sometime, with or without life jackets in the hope of having some visitors to share a bottle with.

I'm trying not to be sad that Paul won't be able to spend much time with me, it's the hardest part.

So many projects will fill my time - there is at last some chance that we can start renovating at least one of the buildings so a priority will be to get plans and quotes organised there. The garden will need a lot of attention, I have almost no money to live on so must try to grow as much food as I can to keep valuable cash for our cat food and wine ration. I hope to complete a dozen paintings and to lick the cookery book into some sort of shape - but mostly, I'm hoping for summer and swallows and the quiet hum of the countryside around me again.