>Development?

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This is what the bulldozers have done to the land near our garden.

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It doesn’t look very pretty, does it?  We were told at the beginning of the planning process that the stone walls would be protected, so I hope the developers keep to this.  The building plots have been marked out, but in the current economic climate we may be left with a part-empty wasteland, as has happened in other villages near here.

But yesterday, at least, the sun came out and shone through the olive groves like this one at Roquessels:

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>Olives and olive oil

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This morning we went Christmas shopping, but in a very non-commercial way as we’re avoiding shopping centres this year, buying food and presents from local shops, markets and the internet for the sake of the environment and because we enjoy it more than the desperate rush around city shops.  So today we went to the olive oil cooperative at Clermont-l’Hérault.

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The cooperative is easy to spot because of this lovely old olive press standing outside.  More modern equipment is used now, as in the new mill in Gabian

DSC00520 .Among other things, we bought some Lucques olives, and two varieties of olive oil including a Lucque ‘huile de Noël’, a lovely fresh-tasting oil which we’ll save for Christmas.

 

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We drove back in bright sunshine past vineyards which are almost leafless now, this stone shelter built into the terrace beneath an olive grove (left, above) and a mazet (vine workers’ shelter) (right, above) with a fig tree and a chestnut tree growing next to it.

Curing our Lucque olives

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DSC00539 I pricked each olive several times with a fork, mixed them in a bowl with some chopped dried oregano, bay leaves and salt.  Then covered them all with a good layer of salt.
I’ve left them in a cool place and they should be ready to eat in about ten days’ time.

This recipe comes from Max Lambert, L’Olivier et la Préparation des Olives.  I’m hoping the olives will be ready for our Christmas day aperitifs in the garden.

Mussels with cream and pastis sauce

As it’s one of the days when the coquillage producer comes to the village from Bouzigues, we had mussels for lunch, an experiment with crème fraiche and pastis – an experiment which worked very well!  Mussels and sauce were delicious.  We opened a bottle of Muscat sec, bought last week at Saint Preignan, which was the perfect accompaniment – not too dry and a lovely flavour.

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The recipe is on the Mediterranean cuisine blog.

>Walking to the garden on Buy Nothing Day again

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Last year on this day we walked to the garden, having bought nothing but bread that morning. Today we did the same, although we also bought some ham for our lunch before we went. This day isn’t about essential food shopping, though, but about refusing the desperate celebration of consumerism that can happen at this time of the year. There are more details on the Buy Nothing Day website. The main aim of this day is to encourage us think about what we consume and spend, as the website explains:

Buy Nothing Day highlights the environmental and ethical consequences of shopping. The developed countries – only 20% of the world population – are consuming over 80% of the earth’s natural resources, causing a disproportionate level of environmental damage and an unfair distribution of wealth.

Our garden is about ten minutes’ walk from our house, on a hillside above the village in a group of gardens which have been there for centuries. In the centre of the village where we live the houses are too close together for there to be room for gardens. The oldest parts of the village date back a thousand years and it was built on the defensive circulade pattern with very narrow streets. The distance from the village means that the garden is very peaceful (until they start building the new houses nearby next year) and we benefit from two groups of neighbours – those at the garden and those near our house.

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The main road looks bare now that the plane trees on one side have been cut down, but the remaining trees look beautiful against the blue sky and the old walls are still there, although tumbling slowly.

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The path to the garden …

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the garden at the end of November.

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A picnic lunch and a coffee with a long shadow at this time of year.

Wintry light and ripening olives

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Harvesting and clearing

DSC00227 While Lo Jardinièr cleared the aubergine plants, I picked the last of the green chillies. There may be a few more green peppers, so long as the nights aren’t too cold over the next couple of weeks. But we’re preparing the ground where we grew this years tomatoes, peppers and aubergines so that it is ready to put manure on in January.

Broad beans and peas

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Broad beans, Spanish habas, mangetout peas and a second sowing of broad beans

The way home

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past some of the other gardens
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and back through the narrow old streets of the village.

>A festive demonstration

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On Saturday we went to Carcassonne for the Anem Oc! demonstration in support of the Occitan language and official recognition of the fact that it is spoken over the whole of southern France, into the alpine valleys of northern Italy and in the Val d’Aran in the Pyrenees, in Catalunya – the only place where it is an official language.  The atmosphere was lively, festive, noisy and fun and there were about 25,000 people on the march through the streets of Carcassonne and up to the Cité, the old medieval town.

DSC09658 DSC09631 There was a wonderful mix of fun and politics – women on stilts, Occitan, Breton, Basque and Catalan flags, and banners demanding liberty for the language and an end to fascism.
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There were traditional Occitan music groups who marched with us through the streets, the bangs of fire crackers and the cheerful shouts from the crowds of people of all ages from small children to young people to the middle aged and older.  It was an exciting and inspiring event.

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It took several hours for the last of the demonstrators to reach the Cité.  There is a connection with the issues I usually write about on this blog, too. 

DSC09684 The movement for Occitan language and culture is connected closely with campaigns for the environment in this part of France, and this has been so ever since the early 1970s when there were protests against the proposed extension of a military base on the Larzac plateau.  These historic links were represented here by some demonstrators who carried flags depicting the cardabela, the carline thistle, symbol of the Larzac where it grows, and the present-day links were there too in the campaign literature of the Partit Oc (the Occitan Party) demanding the protection of the locally based agriculture and food of the region, as well as more Occitan schools and a better TV service.

There are more photos on Flickr: here.

DSC09759 Back home in the garden we found that the plants had benefited from the heavy rain we had last week and now the warm sun has returned to bring the second spring we usually have at this time of the year.  We’ve sown broad beans, Spanish habas and peas, and planted cabbages, lettuces and cauliflowers which are all settling in well.  And the warm weather has brought out more late blooms, including these passiflora flowers.

>World Food Day

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There are serious food issues affecting developing countries and many parts of the world where people do not have enough to eat. According to the United Nations one-sixth of humanity is undernourished. In the developed world the issues are more to do with over-consumption and waste of the earth’s resources. Sometimes it seems as though there is little that an individual can do. But I think that growing as much as we can of our own food and buying food that is locally produced are important small steps that each of us can make, to conserve the earth’s limited resources and to minimise exploitation of people in the developing world. You can find out more about World Food Day here.

Big commerce is bad for food. This is my 201st post on this blog and, on World Food Day, I would like to make it a celebration of local food. In our village we’re lucky to have a weekly market, an excellent épicerie (grocer’s shop), a small supermarket, a boulangerie (baker’s shop) and visiting vans which sell meat and shellfish.

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The butcher’s van on Friday morning.
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The boulangerie – bakery.
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The épicerie – grocer’s shop, full of good food and friendly advice.

We, and anyone else who lives here, can buy all we need in the village. It is excellent quality, good value and much of it is produced locally. We find we need go to supermarkets only to buy toiletries and Italian coffee. In Roujan, a larger village 2 km away, there are two excellent butchers who sell an enormous range of good meat and, best of all, will advise on how to cook it, as well as other friendly small shops.

But the small shops in Roujan, and maybe Gabian too, are threatened by the construction of a supermarket there.

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This is the site of the planned supermarket where, as in Gabian, more plane trees have been felled to make another new roundabout at its entrance.

This is bad news for food. In the UK it has been shown that when a supermarket is built on the outskirts of a town it sucks the lifeblood from the centre. The food sold in supermarkets is mass-produced and generally of lower quality than that in small shops. It is transported long distances, wasting resources and causing pollution. Because of their centralised distribution systems supermarkets cannot support local food as well as small shops can. And the profits made leave the area, feeding big business rather than being ploughed back into the locality.

And local wine …

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This evening we went to a tasting to celebrate the arrival of the primeur wine at the Cave Co-operative at Neffiès. The vin primeur is the first of the year’s wine to be ready to drink, a light wine which takes only three weeks or so to make. It’s a good reason for a party and the tasting at Neffiès was fun, with roasted chestnuts (another seasonal local product) to eat with the wine, and live music. The cave at Neffiès has recently amalgamated with the one at nearby Alignan-du-vent (a sign of the times and the economic crisis in wine-making), but we were pleased to hear that some of the high-quality wines from Neffiès such as their Cathérine de Juery will continue to be made.

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Hot roasted chestnuts to accompany the new wine.
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Tuning up for the music and wine tasting.

And home to a local supper

We came home from Neffiès to a supper of roast saddle of lamb, bought in one of the butcher’s shops in Roujan, and aubergines stuffed with tomatoes, both grown in our garden. A delicious local supper! We marinaded the saddle of lamb with rosemary, garlic and lemon juice for a few hours, then roasted it, adding a glass of white wine to the roasting dish, until it was just done and still a bit pink inside. We served it with halved aubergines topped with chopped tomatoes, garlic, thyme and olive oil and baked in the oven.

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Bilingual blog / le blog bilingue

Over the next few weeks I shall not have time to write my blog posts in French as well as English. I’ll resume the French version as soon as possible, but in the meantime I apologise for not being able to produce a bilingual blog.

Pendant les semaines qui viennent je n’aurai pas le temps pour écrire les articles sur ce blog en français. Je reprendrai la version française aussitôt que possible, mais pour le moment je m’excuse de ne pas produire un blog bilingue.

>Carbon footprints / Empreintes de carbon

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There’s a campaign in the UK and the rest of the world for everyone to reduce their carbon footprint by 10 per cent by 2010. It something small which we can all do for the future of the planet, even though I believe that politicians have to take a much bigger role in this.

Il y a une campagne pour la réduction d’émissions de carbon de tout le monde par 10 pour cent avant 2010. C’est quelque chose que tout le monde peut faire pour l’avenir de la planète, mème si les politiciens doivent prendre un role plus important.

I used the calculator on the website Carbon footprint to calculate our footprint and found that Lo Jardinièr and I are each responsible for 4.74 tonnes of carbon emissions per year:

House 0.41

Flights 0

Car 1.16

Bus & rail 0.06

Secondary 3.11 (food, entertainment, clothes, etc.)

J’ai calculé sur le site Carbon footprint et j’ai trouvé que chaqu’un de nous deux, Lo Jardinièr et moi, sommes resonsable pour 4.74 tonnes d’émissions de carbon par an. La moyenne pour la France est 6.2, mais il faut réduire ce chiffre pour le monde entière à 2 tonnes pour sauver la planète.

Our problem is that we already lead a comparatively low-carbon life, so that it’s difficult to find ways we can reduce it further. The average for France is 6.20 tonnes, for the UK it is 14 and for all industrialised nations it is 11. We can’t let these figures make us feel complacent, though, since the target – what we must do to save the planet – is 2 tonnes per person.

There are some suggestions for cutting emissions on the Guardian website – here. I’ll be reading through them carefully to see what we can do. / Il y a des suggestions (en anglais) pour réduire les émissions de carbon sur le site du Guardianici.

While I’ve been writing this it has started to rain! We hope it will be enough to make a difference to the garden, as we’ve had no proper rain for three months.

>Organic food / La nourriture biologique

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An article on the Guardian website today continues the argument as to whether organic food is healthier. A new report by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has reviewed the research for the past 50 years and found that there is no evidence that organic food is more nutritious than non-organic food. Whether this is true or not is a subject of debate, but I think that anyway it misses the point. For me, the importance of organic food is not what is in it, but what is NOT in it – the chemicals that are added to food produced by non-organic agricultural methods. The FSA study does not seem to take into account the long-term health effects of these chemicals, or the effects of these toxins on the planet. As the Guardian article concludes, an EU study found that: levels of nutritionally undesirable compounds such as toxic chemicals, mycotoxins and metals such as cadmium and nickel, were lower in organic crops.

Un article sur le site Guardian continue le débat autour de la nourriture biologique. Un rapport nouveau de l’agence des normes de la nourriture britannique (FSA) dit qu’il n’y a pas des preuves que la nourriture biologique est plus nutritive que la nourriture de l’agriculture traditionnelle. Je pense que ce n’est pas le point essentiel. Pour moi, c’est les produits toxiques dans la nourriture de l’agriculture traditionelle qui font du mal à la santé et à la planète à long terme. Comme l’article conclue, une recherche de l’UE a trouvé qu’il y a des niveaux des produits chimiques inférieurs dans les récoltes biologique.

I think we should be sensible about this when choosing our food. I would prefer, ideally, to eat organic local food and I do when I can. But I think it is better for the planet to eat locally grown non-organic food than to transport organic food long distances.

Je pense qu’il faut être raisonnable. Je préfère manger la nourriture biologique et locale, mais c’est mieux manger la nourriture locale et non-bio que transporter la nourriture autour du monde.

Of course, the best vegetables are those you grow in your own garden or those which are locally grown like the fruit which producers sell at the roadside near here or these wonderful basketfuls of produce we saw in Sant Feliu de Guixols market on our recent trip to Catalunya:

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Shading the sorrel / Donner l’ombre à l’oseille

Our sorrel plants were looking a bit dry in the hot weather, so Lo Jardinièr had a good (and free) idea to shade them. Our local shop leaves vegetable crates outside for anyone who wants them to take them away, so he picked up two and used them to cover the sorrel plants. Just enough light gets in through the slats and the plants are now looking green and healthy again.

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On a donné un peu d’ombre aux plants d’oseille avec des cageots de l’épicierie.
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>Plane trees update / Les platanes – mise à jour

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At a meeting in the village this week the mayor and the technical staff involved in the project to cut down the plane trees seemed willing to compromise at least. They are willing to consider keeping the trees on one side of the road, while felling those on the other side so that there is room for a pavement and a central reservation in the road. This last ‘improvement’ is said to be necessary to slow down traffic and protect cyclists, but some of us think that there are other, less destructive ways of doing this.

À un réunion cette semaine il a semblé que le maire et les responsables techniques étaient prêts à faire un compromis – de garder les platanes à un côté de la route et d’abattre les autres pour faire un trottoir et un terre-plein au centre de la route pour faire ralentir les voitures.bien que quelques uns entre nous pensions qu’il y a des autres moyens moins destructifs de faire ça.

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It will be sad to lose half of the remaining trees, but better than losing them all. Although some say that they are dangerous because speeding drivers crash their cars into them sometimes, I would say that is not the fault of the trees. In fact it has been found that when the trees are felled drivers go faster because the trees provide an illusion of speed which makes drivers slow down.

Plane trees are not native to the Mediterranean region, but they do adapt well to the dry conditions and shade the roads in summer.

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This plane tree at St-Guilhem-le-Désert not far from here is said to be the biggest in France. I took this photo a few years ago when we visited the village. / Le plus grand platane en France à St-Guilhem-le-Désert.

This whole project of road ‘improvements’ and tree felling will have to be watched carefully to make sure that no more trees than is necessary are destroyed. We need to keep these old trees which were planted over 100 years ago – for the sake of the environment and the character of the village. It is an old village and some of the older inhabitants have long memories of these trees. Most of us do not want a ‘suburban’ look imposed on a rural wine-making village.

Summer harvest / La récolte d’été

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We’re harvesting a lot of tomatoes, courgettes, cucumbers and aubergines now. We’ve made ratatouille to preserve for the winter. / On ramasse beaucoup de tomates, courgettes, concombres et aubergines maintenant. On a fait de ratatouille pour garder pour l’hiver.

The biggest courgette in this photo was hiding under the leaves so we’d let it grow too big – it was almost a marrow, but still sweet and tender. Lo Jardinièr cooked it this evening: cut it up and roasted it with sweet onion, roughly crushed the pieces, added thyme, garlic and cubes of feta cheese and put it back in the oven until the cheese browned. We ate it with tomato and basil salad. A delicious supper!

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Courgette, cuite au four avec d’oignon doux et du fromage feta et du thym, et servie accompagnée d’une salade de tomates et basilic.