A swallowtail and some passing cyclists

The big attraction in our village this morning was the expected passage of the 7th stage of this year’s Tour de France but while we were waiting in the sun on the hottest day of the year so far, I noticed this Swallowtail butterfly on the buddleia flowers at the side of the road.

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And the Tour? Oh, yes, that passed through much more quickly than a butterfly, although the build-up was exciting.

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There’s a larger version of this image, with a haiku I wrote to accompany it, on my photo blog: Moments de lutz

Full moon sorcery

The place behind the church in Neffiès was transformed from its everyday use as a playground and pétanque ground, and from the night before too, when it had been the scene of a fantastic lively concert by Occitan musicians Du Bartas. Last night it was filled with small low tables surrounded by cushions and long tables covered with pretty cloths, laid with wine glasses glinting in the light, netting floated from the trees and candelabras hung from the branches.

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A group of eight or nine women, all dressed in white, had prepared a supper for eighty people to follow a tasting of local wines. Las Mascas - female sorcerers in Occitan – had conjured all this from the space and the food made entirely from local ingredients. And in between cooking and serving they toured the tables singing Occitan songs too. It was a memorable evening.

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And the food? A delicious and inventive four-course supper:

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A tortilla-like concoction of egg and nettle leaves, tapenade made with olives from the village, and salad made from locally grown chick peas with tomatoes, onions and wild herbs from the garrigue.

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Mutton sausage with vegetables and aioli made with wild garlic.

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Goats’ cheese from a farm near the village, served on a vine leaf and with rosemary syrup.

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And chocolate gateau decorated with a mallow flower, just before midnight as the full moon rose above the plane trees.

Learning to fly

In the garden this morning a tiny fledgling, not much bigger than a large butterfly as I saw it in the corner of my eye, landed on a weed, or wild flower as Lo Jardinièr would say – we have plenty of those – and stayed for about 10 minutes while its worried parents chattered in the trees nearby, giving me time to take a few unaccustomed bird shots.  I think it may be a wren but would welcome more knowledgeable suggestions.

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In the garden, the vegetables are ‘learning to fly’ too – we have a lot of small green tomatoes, a hopeful sign for next month when they should be ripe.

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and the first rows of haricot beans, sowed rather late just a few weeks ago, are coming up:

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And I’m learning to fly another blog: for over four years I’ve been contributing a photo a day (with only a few gaps) to my Blipfoto journal but I am unhappy about the changes being made there, which make it impossible for family and friends who are not subscribers to see more than a few of my entries at one session. So I’ve decided to start a photo blog – it won’t be every day, but I hope it will be most days, and it will have few words, just photos.

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It’s Moments de lutz (moments of light in Occitan) and it isn’t just for family – please have a look if you have a moment!

Gnocchi at last!

I’m very pleased with myself today, because I’ve managed to make gnocchi and it’s all thanks to Chicago John at From the Bartolini  kitchens. Many years ago I made gnocchi a couple of times, more or less successfully, and then once or twice it was a disaster – the gnocchi dissolved in the cooking water leaving me with a sort of thin potato soup! This put me off and I didn’t try again until I saw Chicago John’s post the other day, which gave a detailed step-by-step recipe. I followed this exactly, for the gnocchi themselves although I made a different sauce, and IT WORKED! I think the secret of success with this recipe is baking rather than boiling the potatoes, so that they are much drier than when I’ve made gnocchi before following recipes that advised boiling them.

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John served his gnocchi with gorgonzola and cream sauce, which sounds delicious, but I didn’t have either gorgonzola or cream so I served mine with oregano and hazelnut pesto and shaved Parmesan. I put half the gnocchi I’d made in the freezer so there’s a ready-made meal for another day too, maybe with a cheese sauce made with Roquefort as I probably won’t find gorgonzola here. Thank you very much, Chicago John!

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Olive flowers

A week or so later than usual, our Luque olive tree is flowering, in fact it’s covered in these tiny delicate flowers that are self-pollinating. They don’t seem to have any scent, because they don’t need to attract insects for pollination.

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We mustn’t count our olives before they are ‘hatched’ because last year we had a lot of blossom but only a handful of olives from this tree, but it’s a hopeful sign to see so much flower.

Almond cherry cake made with olive oil

The other day Chica Andaluza posted her recipe for olive oil pastry, having discovered as I have how easy and tasty it is. I commented that I used olive oil for cakes too and she asked me to post a recipe. I rarely make cakes and when I do I usually make it up as I go along but here, especially for Chica and for this blog, is a measured, tried and tested recipe, successfully made and tasted today. I used some jam that hadn’t set very well but you could use any fruit in syrup.

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Almond cherry cake

150 grams ground almonds

100 grams plain flour

125 grams sugar

3 eggs

100 ml olive oil

a pinch of salt and a teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda

150 ml cherry jam (or other fruit in syrup)

Put all the ingredients except the jam in the food processor and whizz until mixed. Pour the mixture into a 25 cm cake tin. I lined mine with greaseproof paper which makes it much easier to take the cake out once it is baked. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes at 200°C. Test it with a skewer to check that it has cooked all the way through. If you don’t want a sticky, syrupy cake you could leave it to cool at this stage and eat it as it is.

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But, then, who doesn’t want a sticky, syrupy cake? While the cake is still hot and in the tin, pour over the syrup, leaving the fruit to add later. When it has cooled remove it from the tin and put the cherries (or other fruit) on top. Serve with cream or ice cream. We happened to have some chocolate ice cream which went very well with it.

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I think I’ll be making this again!

A Saturday treat

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Clams are much more expensive than mussels, but I love their sweet flavour so occasionally Lo Jardinièr and I treat ourselves to some from the coquillage van that brings them, along with oysters and mussels, to the village on Saturday mornings straight from the Etang de Thau at Bouzigues. We had some black squid-ink spaghetti so we cooked that while the clams opened slowly in a wide pan with just a little olive oil. When they were all open I added a few tablespoons of crème fraiche and some chopped oregano and garlic to the pan, mixed it well with the juices from the clams and added it all to the pasta. It took about ten minutes to make for lunch….

clams-2and serve with a glass of Viognier white wine made in the village.

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What a treat!