Sunday, 26 June 2011

Glorious weather

As I view the reports from Glastonbury and the accepted mud on the BBC news the 36degrees C weather here seems a pleasant contrast. During the 40 years or so that we toured France and Europe on our motorcycle I was always told that the good weather began south of the Loire. Having been washed away in the Dordogne a few times that is not a proven scientific fact but experience shows it holds some element of truth.
Warm weather equals more watering but the terrace flowers are starting to fill out the tubs and baskets
This weekend we invited our French friends for dinner and since the weather was so good we set the table in the garden managing to talk and laugh and enjoy some of Maureens great cooking until gone 11pm.
Then French 'gang' although Phillipe and Natalie are missing and Chantal is hiding in her chair!
As I may have mentioned before our neighbour, Monique, here in Le Breuil has what we would call a smallholding which she keeps trimmed and cultivated to standards that would be admired in a public park. The little ducklings that arrived ten days ago have taken to the water in the duck pond and even gained the confidence to steal oats from the chickens!!!
Ducks take to the water at last although two can be seen on a mission to steal chicken food!
Michel my French friend has an MGF and recently the bodywork underwent a renovation having a repaint and a new green hood. I managed to locate a good deal on hoods in the UK so on a recent trip back I collected the hood from the supplier saving a lot of money compared to the cost in France.
Two 'non' experts at work, making a fine job of fitting the new hood.
Being in the heart of the countryside you can see a wide variety of animals in the fields. The farmer down the road has three beautiful working horses although I am sure they are a particular type and have a rather restul life. In the field opposite you can see Maurice and Charles two big and handsome Charolais bulls, along with the sheep, goats and cows they make up the animal population of the hamlet.
Don't mess with me!

Claude, Jules & Hercules (The Boys)

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Solar heater & work

Raining at last, nice steady rain to soak the ground, water the grass and the vegetable garden although I am sure it would take a several months of rain to restore the water levels in the etangs. However one has to prepare for the hot weather so I am busy inventing a solar water heater for our inflatable spa, will it work I ask myself? Watch this space for further news.
20mm plastic electric conduit for the solar heater!

The gite is now fully booked until mid September so preparation of the gite garden and flowers is a priority, the Miracle Grow appears to be working well as the flower tubs and baskets are growing well although I am sure much more TLC will be required over the summer months.
Flower tubs developing well

Yesterday I came downstairs looking like a snowman after filling the plasterboard joints in our second bedroom. I admire plasterers who manage to put all the plaster on the wall and not on themselves. We have friends staying in three weeks time so completing the bedroom in the house is a priority.
Plasterboard joint filling in the house making progress.

Chatillon is holding a big European event from the 12th - 15th July and I have offered to help organse the 'Its a Knockout' Jeux sans Frontiers. I have some ideas that involve giant escargots, massive bratwurst sausages and wooden cheese - wait for the construction stage to see how things turn out!

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Vendredi Gourmand

The Comite des Fetes in Chatillon sur Indre organises Vendredi Gourmand evenings in June, July & August, and last night was the first. Of course, the weather was against us, but we went anyway - it's a good opportunity to meet and chat with our French neighbours. We took along our gite guests - they probably wondered what they had let themselves in for!
A small brass band arrived to help the evening along!

Now fine dining it isn't, but you are invited to walk around the market stalls, choosing what you want to eat. There is a chap who does Creole food (very spicy), a cheese stall, and the local outside caterer, Joel, who offers something different. This time it was a dish of Paella but he he was also doing Merguez (Moroccan spiced sausages) and chips. We also had a new face - a Portugese chef who was making onion omelettes and real chips  from potatoes. (Portugese did I say??). Desserts are also on offer from some fellow English as well as tartelettes from the Portugese guy.
We claim a table before too many people arrive!

We can buy wine, beer or soft drinks and generally we have a good night. Tarpaulin covers had been rigged up so we had somewhere dry to sit, and the rain did stop, although the temperature was a bit low. The usual locals turned up to support the event, but the weather probably kept quite a few away. Still, it was the first of the year and many of the tourists haven't arrived yet. We ate, chatted, drank and stayed to help them clear up. This is a good way to integrate with the local community, and they appreciate our efforts.
One of the stalls selling hot food - local ladies helping as usual!

It's a bit damp this morning, but we won't complain, as the ground is seriously in need of a good soaking. It will also help the grass green up in time for our next guests who arrive in a week's time.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Market day and aperitifs

French markets are well known for their diverse range of produce, and Loches market (Wednesdays and Saturdays) is no exception, so it's always worth a visit. It is also nice to sit at a pavement cafe with a grand creme and watch the world go by. We have our favourite stalls - the cheese lady who has a wide and varied range of cheeses from all over France, the butcher/charcuterie van which has excellent merguez and chipolatas, are two we like.

However, it's also easy to get caught out (yes, even us veterans of over 40 years travel in France!). There are often specialist cheese sellers who have maybe 3 or 4 types of cheese which they invite you to taste (they will somehow know you are English). Once you do, they have you, and you find yourself buying a smallish piece without asking how much it will be. We did this a while back and got stung for a lot of money! Even worse, I handed the cash over!! The same can happen with the saucisson seller and the smoked ham seller. Buyer beware!

Still, the markets in France are full of lovely fresh produce which is very much home grown, something which we may only see at monthly Farmer's markets in the UK.



On a different subject, remember the eau de vie we collected from the distiller recently? Well, we started our aperitif 'Epine' with our neighbour Dominic at the weekend. Firstly we had to collect the shoots from the blackthorn bushes (pous d'epine), then pour in 6 litres of alcohol. This was left overnight, then last night, John went over there and they added sugar and 30 litres of Gamay (plus a couple of other secret ingredients). This will be left for a few days and Dom will taste it regularly. When he is satisfied with the taste (it takes on a slight almond taste from the blackthorn leaves), it will be filtered and bottled. Then we drink it! Simple really! From an original strength of about 43%, it reduces to about the same strength as sherry.


Sunday, 12 June 2011

Randonee semi nocturne and musical interludes

The French do like their randonees, and we took part in a local walk on Friday evening around our local town of Chatillon sur Indre. It was organised by the gym club (keep fit to you or I) run by a 64 year old (yes, she is very fit) lady who has a smallholding which backs onto our property. It was supposed to be 9K - that was what was advertised, but she quietly told us it was just over 10K (that was a secret apparently). However, we were not deterred by this information, and duly set off at 8.00pm with Poppy who is always looking for new sniffing grounds. Halfway round, as is common with all randonees, there is a tuck stop. Sometimes these are very elaborate affairs with wine (yes at 10.00 in the morning!), sometimes barbecued food, but always plenty to eat. We had a drink and a slice of a very nice leek quiche, Poppy had a welcome drink then we set off again. There were about 50 people on the walk, and we spent a pleasant 2 hours covering the distance. Mind you, the legs were complaining a bit by the time we got back, but another bit of tuck this time accompanied by a glass of cider helped.
Our local hamlet also chose the same night for it's annual concert given by the nearby commune's wind band. We pulled up at 10.30 in time to hear the last 3 tunes, then we all stood around having a glass of wine and a galette or two. The galettes are not what you expect (flat pancakes), but are puff pastry triangles. More often than not they are made from potato flour, but those last night were standard puff pastry. A bit dry really, but then you just have another drink.
By the time we got home (12.30am) my muscles were really starting to complain and I had to put some muscle relaxant on them before I could get off to sleep. They are still grumbling today, but then I'm not in the best of conditions for undertaking 10K walks.

That's a right corker!

Its June again and in France that's the season for Brocantes, many towns large and small fill up with stalls selling household clearance and everything else imaginable and today was no exception. Attending these events is a little like visting IKEA, you never know what you are going to leave with!!! Today I bought a wine bottle corking machine, something I normally borrow from my French friend.
A man needs to prepare his corking machine!

Guests staying at the gite can buy wine in bulk (10 or 20 litres) from local wine growers and now they can bottle the wine themselves with the use of this corking machine!

Sarah, Michel's daughter, and her husband Rodolphe called today along with Melville the 15month old additon to the family. As it is the weekend of Pentecost, they are visiting our friends Michel and Chantal for the weekend from Paris and Melville was keen to see the local animals....sheep, ducklings, chickens etc and since we are in charge of feeding and securing the neighbours animals this weekend we had a visit next door.

The sheep do not appear to be interested in the visitors!

The gite grass has improved considerablywith the recent rain and although the ground is still very dry the grass at least appears to have taken on a green tint.
Taken today, as you can see the gite garden grass is indeed green, remarkable!

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

All in a days work

Every year around this time a strange vehicle arrives just outside the town near the river, and each day for about 3 weeks vans can be seen driving up to it depositing large blue containers and assorted others (like large black dustbins in our case). What is going on I hear you ask...well it is the annual distillation!
Whenever we have sufficient fruit, in our case small yellow plums which our friend says are not mirabelle, but are reine claude (greengages)  - I don't agree with him as they are very small for greengages, we collect them and add sugar. When they have stopped fizzing, we seal them up and leave them over the winter. Then at the end of May we take them to the man by the river who turns them into eau de vie. We then use the eau de vie to make an aperitif called Epine (the recipe of which changes from family to family, but is a closely guarded secret), which is of a similar strength to sherry.

All of this is controlled by the local Mairie, and you have to have a permit to distill in order to turn your fruit into alcohol. Unfortunately, most of the permits are held by quite elderly people, and we are led to believe that the bureaucrats in Paris are determined to end the practice and will not allow the permits to be handed on to sons or daughters when the permit holder dies. It's a shame when a tradition in the countryside is not allowed to continue. Something is lost.

One of the fruits he was distilling the day we collected ours was strawberries - the smell was wonderful. It's a wonder he doesn't spend every day in a fuzz of alcohol! Certainly the fish in the river must be happy at this time of year! I wonder if the fishermen notice anything different about the taste of the fish they catch!

Well, we got 20 litres which I thought was quite respectable, but my neighbour Dominic has just told me he got 50 litres! Phew! Still, he says you never know if you will have enough fruit and it always pays to have some in stock. I suppose if the permits are being removed we won't know if we will get any next year so it's as well to have some in.

Our French friends put a little in the bottom of their empty coffee cups at the end of a meal - just to finish off the dregs. Me, I prefer a good malt whisky, thank you very much.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Rain at last!

We've had such a dry spell for what seems like months, but last night it actually rained here. The grass immediately perked up and the flowers look much happier although I am sure it will take much more rain to restore the supply in reservoir's.

Poppy, our 4 1/2 year old black lab is also happier it's a bit cooler - black is not a good colour when it's 25 degrees in the shade!

John has gone upstairs to work on the second bedroom in the house now it's a bit damp outside. Which is just as well really as we will need the room ready for when some friends come to stay next month.

The cottage has received a good spring clean and repaint in the kitchen, John has polished all the brass so its looking good for our first guests who arrive this weekend.

Brass and copper polished...John's task I am pleased to say!

I'm going to try to go into the potager this afternoon as I may be able to turn the soil over now - when it is dry it sets like concrete and I can't do anything with it. The poor veg in the garden has struggled to say the least. The green beans show little signs of even flowering, but this rain might have helped. I can't get the salad to grow in the soil, so I resorted to putting the lettuces into deep trays and keeping them in the shade.

Mind you, the strawberries loved the sun - I must have made 20 jars of jam! The cherries are also fabulous. My friend Gaynor gave me a lovely recipe for clafoutis (that cherry dessert beloved of the French at this time of year), but when I made it last night I didn't put enough milk in and it's a bit heavy. I'll get it right next time, Gay, I promise!

After weeks of hard work we have completed the changes to the gite garden. We have removed some old leylandii trees and replaced these with a low panel fence and stone walled flower beds. It looks much better and brightens up the right hand side of the gite garden for our guests.
All I need to do now is add plants and hope the grass seed grows!
Madam Monique's ducklings arrived yesterday - little balls of yellow fluff with two tiny legs but I am sure they will grow quickly and soon be swimming around in the duckpond!

Monday, 6 June 2011

A new dawn for Les Deux Platanes

We are John and Maureen, and we've just moved into the 21st century with our own blog from France.

We hope you follow the goings on here in central France, and the day to day story of country folk (no, it's not the Archers).

Our trusty 1980 Golding

We have been visiting France for more than 40 years, mostly on 3 wheels, always visiting this part of France during part of our holidays to see a French friend John met at University in the 1970's. In 2002 our friend telephoned to say the lady who makes the goats cheese in the village was leaving the village and her cottage would be for sale - needless to say it was an opportunity not to be missed - 8 years later the place is eventually looking ship shape!

And as the years passed we moved onto 4 wheels

We took early retirement 4 years ago so renovation moved up a few gears and the place is looking very presentable indeed. Just as well John served an apprenticeship in the building industry!

We'll post some pictures so you can see what it was like, and also what it is like now.
Watch this space.