>More spring flowers and a tiny apricot

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Apple blossom – there’s much more than last year.
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Cherry blossom – our first year.
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A rather raggedy iris.
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The bay trees are covered in flowers.
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The broom is flowering here in the garden and all over the hills in the garrigue.
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There aren’t many apricots on our tree, but it’s going to be a better year than last year.

And the last of the red cabbages

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There were three small red cabbages left and threatening to go to seed, so we picked them all this morning, sliced them and cooked them with two sliced onions sautéed in olive oil, a tablespoonful of whole cumin seeds, two tablespoons of brown sugar, a cup of red wine vinegar and a cup of water, plus some salt and pepper, left it all to simmer for about 45 minutes until the cabbage was cooked. It can now be frozen in meal-sized bagfuls.

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>Red cabbage

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I saw bigger red cabbages for sale in the market this morning, but we’re quite proud of this one because it came from our garden. There are several more ready to eat.

IMGP4356 From the garden…. IMGP7024
to the kitchen….
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to the cooking pot with onions, ground cumin and a little vinegar….
IMGP7031 to the plate. It went very well with Lacaune sausage from the market.

>From a frosty garden

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We’ve had a couple of very cold nights, below freezing with frost in the garden.  Not nearly as cold as further north, and no snow here at all, but it’s still been quite wintry.  There were a few olives left on our Lucque tree, that weren’t quite ripe when we picked the others, but they seem to have gone rather mushy as though they’ve been affected by the frost, although I’d be surprised at this since some varieties aren’t harvested until January and there are almost always freezing temperatures before then.

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Red cabbages and cauliflowers
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The artichoke plants will soon recover
IMGP3790 Lettuce, which will also recover, we hope. IMGP3791-1 This little radicchio plant looks completely unaffected by the cold.
IMGP3798 The frosted aubretia  leaves looked pretty in the sun. IMGP3799 The broad beans have been protected by the layer of bamboo leaves.
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Frost melting on the palm leaves.
IMGP3802 Low sun sparkling through the fence.

And the building work goes on

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Above right, two big machines and a lorry…. it’s very noisy in our garden now.  Above left, you can see how close the work is to the garden.

>A little rain

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We’ve had a couple of thunderstorms and two cloudy days – a little rain but not nearly enough after a summer that’s been even drier than usual.  When the first thunderstorm came the night before last, I was worried about the turnip seedlings that had just emerged the day before.  Last year some of these got completely washed away by heavy rain.  I needn’t have worried, though, they’re still there:

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Planting out the winter vegetables

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We’ve planted out the red cabbage, green cabbage, cauliflower and leek plants which we bought because we didn’t get round to sowing them earlier in the summer.  Neighbours have given us lettuce seedlings, too, so we should have lots of leaves for salads and soups in the autumn and winter.

 

 

And the aubergines seem to be starting again, with new flowers and a few new fruits, one of which we ate for lunch today.

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Market day

The market was busier than it has been over the summer – there were stalls selling household goods and our usual charcutier was back from the break he took last week.  We bought pork chops to barbecue outside in the place, sharing the fire with our neighbour as we often do.  While they were cooking we had goats’ cheeses with thyme, garlic, olive oil and cherry tomatoes.

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>Garden bloggers’ bloom day

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Apart from lichen and rust which I think look lovely in the spring sunlight …

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….. we have apricot blossom just about to come out (several weeks late this year) …

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…..one lone daffodil and one rather battered-looking anemone (also very late, although one anemone made the mistake of flowering in November!) …..

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…. our neighbour’s almond blossom (cheating a bit, but we can see it over the fence) and the rosemary which has been flowering all winter, even when it was very cold….

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That’s it for the flowers, but we’re still harvesting cabbages, salad leaves (lettuce, lamb’s lettuce and sorrel), as well as herbs (thyme, sage, rosemary, bay).

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Garden bloggers’ bloom day is hosted by Carol at May Dreams Gardens.

>Apricot buds and a new cold frame

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One of the good things about writing a garden blog is that I can check back and see how this year compares with last year and the year before.  Spring seems to be late this year, but looking back to last February I can see that the apricot buds are at about the same stage this year, although the daffodils are certainly later.  Last year we had daffodils in flower in time for St David’s day – that won’t happen this year.

DSC01890 DSC01892 The apricot tree should be in flower in a few days’ time.

I sowed some mangetout peas about a month ago and had almost given up hope of the plants appearing.  I thought the seeds had been washed away by some of the heavy rain we’ve had and today I decided to sow some more in the same place.  Luckily I had a close look first because I noticed that they’re coming up at last.  We’ve covered them with chicken wire because the birds seem to like them.

DSC01893 mangetout peas emerging and, right, the garlic doing well. DSC01906 DSC01901 But the daffodils are late this year.

We’ve already got two rustic-looking cold frames in the garden, but our neighbour gave us an old window so Lo Jardinièr decided to make another one – they’ll all come in useful when our pepper and cucumber plants need a bit of protection before being planted out.  He made a base of sand covered with old terracotta floor tiles, made walls with concrete blocks and rested the window on top – very simple.

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While he was doing that I sowed another double row of broad beans and a row of spinach.  We lost at least three sowings of spinach to heavy rain in the autumn, each time I re-sowed them there would be another storm and no sign of spinach plants, except for a solitary one which has survived the winter.  We miss having the young spinach leaves in our salads, so we hope to grow some now before the weather gets too hot and dry. 

Today’s harvest:

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Rosemary, thyme and bay, which the garden provides all through the year, whatever the weather, chard, which is just recovering from the cold weather and starting to grow again, and cabbage.

>Second anniversary

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DSC01682 It’s two years this weekend since I started this blog. As I said last year, on the first anniversary, we’ve learnt a lot from becoming part of the community of gardening bloggers and have made many friends and even met some of them – Ian at Kitchen Garden in France and Kate at Hills and Plains Seedsavers and Vegetable Vagabond in Australia, who have both visited us here and who invited us to join their Kitchen Garden International weekend last September in south-western France. We’ve exchanged seeds with Ian and Kate and also with Laura at Mas du Diable, quite near us in the Cévennes, and with Michelle at From Seed to Table in California, where the climate is also Mediterranean. The blogs I read and from which I get enjoyment and inspiration are listed in the side bar, and there too many to mention here, but two which I read most often because they are by fellow Mediterranean gardeners, in a similar climate to ours, are Jan’s in Catalunya and Heiko’s in Italy. So, as well as our gardening neighbours here in Gabian who are a wonderful source of useful advice, we are benefiting from the knowledge and experience of gardeners and cooks all over the world. Thank you all!

Mid-February in the garden

It’s a quiet time in the garden, a time for planning the next year, but not for harvesting very much. Apart from herbs – thyme, rosemary, mint and bay especially – which we use daily, we’re picking only leeks and cabbages at the moment, with the chard and lettuces just recovering from the cold weather we’ve had.

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It seems to be a late spring – there is no sign yet of almond or apricot blossom and their buds are only just beginning to swell.

DSC01654 DSC01657 Left, the still-bare branches of our apricot tree, and above, canes and flower of bamboo, battered by the north wind, but beautiful against the clear sky on a cold day.

DSC01672 After a cold walk back from the garden we warmed ourselves with a bowl of Lo Jardinièr’s flageolet bean and vegetable soup, with goats’ cheese and cured pork on toast and some red wine from Montesquieu.

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Spring will come, though, and today we’ve sowed our tomato seeds and put them on the seed starter box which Lo Jardinièr made last year. We put the new mini-greenhouse on the balcony in the sun today to try it out and, although it was a cold day – about 6 degrees C – the temperature inside reached 22 degrees! So it will be good for the tomato and pepper plants once they germinate and before we take them to the garden to put in the more rustic-looking cold frames we have there.

>What a difference a day makes ….

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Yesterday it rained for twenty-four hours:

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I can see this chimney from our top-floor window and it tells me whether or not there will be rain – if the wind is coming from the south the clouds come over the sea and we usually have rain, although not always as heavy as this. If the wind comes from the north, the smoke is blown the other way and we have dry weather because the rain from any clouds which do appear has already fallen in the mountains inland.

Today was almost spring-like, with warm sunshine and a north wind silvering the leaves of the olive trees at the edge of this vineyard at the top of the hill above our garden:

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In the garden most of the plants had survived the cold nights well:

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Spanish habas (left), 2nd sowing of broad beans (far left) and first sowing of broad beans above.
DSC01143 Cabbages

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This almond tree looks a lot better against a blue sky, rather than last week’s grey one, even though it won’t have blossom for another couple of weeks. First signs of spring: a mimosa tree in a sheltered garden in the village has yellow flower buds about to open. The almond blossom usually follows very soon afterwards.





Haiti earthquake

The catastrophic events in Haiti have been on my mind for the past few days – how can one small country have to put up with so many disasters and problems? There seems so little that individuals can do but we can donate towards the aid effort at the websites of the British Red Cross, the American Red Cross or the French organisation Action Contre la Faim.

>End of year round-up / Résumé de la fin d’année

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Our family holiday is over now and as always the best part of it has been enjoying being together, cooking, eating, drinking, talking, laughing.  This post is just a brief round-up of some highlights from this last week.

Les fêtes familiales sont finies et comme toujours nous nous sommes regalés ensemble, dans la cuisine, en mangeant, en buvant, en parlant et en riant.  Ici je vous donne un gout de quelques points forts de la semaine dernière.

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25 December sky / le ciel du 25 décembre

On Christmas day it was just about warm enough to walk to the garden at midday and have our traditional apéritif there, although this year rather than cold drinks we had mulled wine – a bottle of Domaine d’Estève red wine heated with a few tablespoons of brown sugar, some juniper berries, a cinnamon stick, some cloves and some orange pieces, including the peel. 

Olives

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We took some of our own olives out of the brine they’ve been soaking in for two months, rinsed them in plain water and coated them with olive oil.  They tasted very good, but a bit salty so we’ll soak the others in plain water for a bit longer to get rid of some of the salt.  It was exciting to eat our own olives next to our olive tree, as we did last year at the same time – but this time the olives are bigger and better and there are more of them.

Christmas meal / le repas de Noel

Everyone has different ideas about what makes the perfect Christmas meal.  We’re not very keen on turkey and Christmas pudding, so for many years we’ve eaten our own different choices which change from year to year.  Even when we lived in Wales we didn’t eat a traditional Welsh or British Christmas meal, and here we’ve adopted some of the local festive habits, such as eating oysters.  We started the meal with raw oysters, then had very small cups of oyster soup, foie gras with figs (bought in Pézenas market from the producer), and then gambas (large prawns) sautéed in olive oil with a dash of pastis added at the end of the cooking.

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oysters served with Picpoul de Pinet white wine
foie gras   figs_1_1 foie gras with figs, served with pepper- corns and sea salt
gambas_1 Gambas are large prawns which have a special spicy flavour.  We sauté them in olive oil and then add either Armagnac or pastis – this time it was pastis, the aniseed spirit which is considered the spirit of the Midi.

We had two main dishes – pigeons for meat-eaters and salt-baked sea bass for non-meat-eaters – both served with sautéed leeks from the garden and potato and celeriac mash.

Salt-baked sea bass

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Baking in salt preserves all the flavour.
We stuffed the sea bass with fennel and lemon slices, laid it on a bed of sea salt and covered it completely with more sea salt.  We put it in a hot oven for about 40 minutes (this depends on the size of fish) and then cracked the ‘shell’ of salt.

Stuffed pigeons with pancetta

pigeons_1_1 We stuffed pigeons with breadcrumbs, chopped dried apricots, parsley, garlic, sautéed onion, sage and white wine, put a slice of pancetta over each one and roasted them in a hot oven for about 50 minutes.

We finished the meal with some of the cherries preserved in Armagnac which I bottled last May.

Since then we’ve had some more good meals, including a simple, but delicious soup made with cabbage, chestnuts and white wine:

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And, on the last evening before the family left, a bonite (small tuna-like fish) marinaded in a charmoula herb mix, stuffed with olives and preserved lemons and roasted on a bed of potatoes and tomatoes.  The recipe came from the Guardian weekend magazine but instead of sea bass we used the bonite which I’d bought from our market fish stall a couple of weeks ago and kept in the freezer.

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We served this dish with an excellent bottle of red Coteaux de Languedoc from the Domaine de la Tour Penedesses in Gabian.

Sustainable?

I think that, like us, most people take a break from some of their principles at this time of the year.  We certainly wouldn’t claim that our gambas were very eco-friendly, but most of our other food was.  The fish we ate was all locally caught and the oysters were produced in the Bassin de Thau.  I like foie gras and don’t join in the chorus of disapproval which so often results from any mention of this food.  I don’t think it’s any more cruel than other poultry farming and it’s much more acceptable to me than the battery-reared chickens to which critics of foie gras seem to have little objection.  Anyway, it is very expensive so we can only eat it once a year.  We ate as much as we can from the garden at this time of year, although we did buy potatoes, celeriac, chestnuts and tomatoes.  We decided not to have a pine tree this year and instead decorated some arbutus and bay branches from the garrigue and from our garden – this looked pretty and best of all didn’t drop pine needles on the floor!  And, rather than flying, our family travelled to Gabian by train – Eurostar and TGV – a much more sustainable choice.

How do others reconcile treats with principles, I wonder?

>Winter salad / la salade d’hiver

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I may have given the impression in my recent post on the changing shape of the garden – the garden changes shape – that there wasn’t much growing in the vegetable garden at the moment. But it’s just that winter crops grow lower than summer tomatoes, peppers and aubergines, they huddle near the ground for shelter, making the garden flatter. This morning it was cold, 3 degrees C, but we still managed to pick the ingredients for a salad from our garden:

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Salad of lettuce, rocket, chicory, spinach, sorrel, mizuna and oregano, all fresh from the garden today.

Une salade de laitue, roquette, endive, epinards, oseille, mizuna et oreganum, ramassés du jardin aujourd’hui.

Even in winter, we eat something from the garden every day. In the last week we’ve eaten leeks, turnips, chard, spinach, red cabbage, green cabbage, lettuce and mizuna.

Même en hiver, on mange quelque légumes du jardin chaque jour. Pendant la semaine dernière on a mangé: des poireaux, des navets, des épinards, des choux rouge et vert, de la laitue et du mizuna.

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cauliflower/chou-fleur
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chard / blettes
rainbow chard_1_1 rainbow chard
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mangetout peas
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spinach / épinards
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broad beans / fèves

Some of the vegetables which are thriving in the garden in spite of the cold weather / quelques légumes qui poussent bien malgré le temps froid.

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the peas are germinating / les petits pois germent
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2nd crop of leeks doing well / 2ème récolte de poireaux poussent bien
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the radishes taste good /
les radis sont bons
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and the red cabbage leaves are beautiful / et les feuilles du choux rouge sont belles

I love the summer vegetables best – tomatoes, aubergines, artichokes, courgettes – but even in December there are still plenty of good things in the garden!

J’aime les légumes de l’été – les tomates, les aubergines, les artichauts, les courgettes – mais même en décembre il y a plusiers de bonnes choses dans le jardin!