>Preparing for winter, while the summer harvest goes on

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The tomatoes are coming to an end, and some of our gardening neighbours have already uprooted their plants, resigned to its being a bad year for them.  We’re picking and eating peppers every day and we’re pleased we planted so many different varieties which all have their own characteristics: the ones on the left of the photo above are Corno di Toro which are good for stuffing; there’s a spicy Kolaska next to the aubergine and some Longues des Landes on the right – they’re both good varieties for grilling on the barbecue.  In the centre there are a few red chillies.

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For lunch today we grilled some green peppers and the aubergine on the barbecue.  I then skinned the peppers, which is very easy when they’ve been grilled and the outer skin has blackened.  I made a salad with them, some oregano and chopped garlic, goats’ cheeses from Mas Rolland and some cherry tomatoes, added a bit of salt and some olive oil and served them with fresh Aveyronnais bread.

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We picked another five or six kilos of figs this morning and made some more jam.  The recipe is very simple: for each 600 gm of figs, chopped and put in a large pan, I added 400 gm sugar and the juice of half a lemon.  I brought them all to the boil and simmered until the jam thickened and began to set when a spoonful was put on to a cool saucer.  Then bottle in sterilised jars.  We now have twenty jars of mixed, green or black fig jam, so we know we’ll have something for winter breakfasts.

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Mussels for supper

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As usual on a Saturday morning, the coquillage van from Bouzigues came to the village, so we bought a kilo of mussels and ate them this evening in a sauce made with onions, garlic, wild fennel, lardons, white wine and crème fraiche.  And as usual they were delicious. 

>Brasucade de moules

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We’re very lucky that the coquillage (shellfish) van comes to the village twice a week bringing sustainably produced and delicious shellfish from Bouzigues on the Etang de Thau, a salt-water lagoon only 30 or so kilometres from here.  One of our favourite ways of eating mussels is to cook them on the barbecue in a big open pan – we use a paella pan or a Spanish sartén honda, both of which are available very cheaply in a local discount store. 

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Today I lightly sautéed a couple of sliced garlic cloves, some sprigs of savoury and rosemary, some lardons fumés (smoked bacon pieces) and a chopped dried Espelette pepper in olive oil over the flames and then left them to infuse while we cooked some whole Spanish sweet onions which I’d just pulled out of the ground.  When the onions were done and while we were eating them as a first course, the mussels were left to open and cook over the fire.

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When the mussels are cooked we just put the pan in the middle of the table for people to share, with a sprinkling of chopped fresh garlic, a squeeze of lemon juice and some crusty bread.  And a glass or two of rosé wine from the Domaine des Pascales in the village.  The sun even came out for an hour or so while we were eating!

Spring flowers and leaves

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The white cistus is now in flower and one of its flowers had a yellow butterfly on it.  The mangetout peas are flowering too – such beautiful petals, as lovely as sweet peas but with the advantage of pods to eat later.  Vines have insignificant flowers so this is one plant where the leaves are more impressive, especially when the sun casts shadows of one leaf upon another.

Planting out the peppers

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We did some work too, and planted out most of our pepper plants.  There are a few more to do tomorrow and some which we want to grow in pots outside the house.

>Saturday sun and mussels

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The shell fish producer from Bouziques comes to the village on Thursday afternoons and Saturday mornings, so each week on at least one of those days we usually eat mussels.

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We can never decide which is our favourite mussel dish – it’s usually the one we’re eating now!  Today we grilled them with blue cheese (we used Bleu d’Auvergne, but other blue cheeses would work just as well), white wine, bread crumbs and olive oil.  Now this is another favourite!

The snow has all gone and the weather is warming up a bit again – last night was the first night for over a week when the temperature didn’t drop below freezing.  After lunch it was warm enough to sit outside in the sun with our coffee.  I daren’t say that spring has come because last time I said that we had snow a few days later, but there’s hope of spring.

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Tomatoes and peppers update

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All the varieties of tomatoes have germinated and all the peppers except the Longue d’Espagne (these last were seeds from an old packet belonging to our neighbour).  The two bright green plants in the centre at the top of the right-hand picture are lemon seedlings.  When the sun is on our balconies in the afteroons we put them out in the mini-greenhouses, where the temperature reaches up to 30 degrees C, even when there’s a chilly north wind.

>A late St David’s day and a return to the Mediterranean

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Last night we invited our Occitan friends in the village to a meal to celebrate (a few days late) St David’s day, as we usually do around 1st March.

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We served toast with laver bread and bacon with apéritifs (laver bread is seaweed boiled for hours into a sort of purée, a south Wales delicacy which you either love or you hate – fortunately our friends here love it).  For the first course we had leeks (from our garden) with salmon baked in the oven with white sauce and grated cheese.  The main course was a lamb stew (which I couldn’t resist putting some very Mediterranean thyme into) with stiwnts (mashed carrots and parsnips).   Parsnips have only recently appeared in the shops here and it was the first time our friends had tasted them.  We grew a few tiny ones last year, but it wasn’t a success as it’s too dry for them.  For dessert we had apple tart and cream.  And then a wonderful Italian cake which one of our friends had brought as a contribution to the meal.  So it was a variation on a Welsh meal and we left Wales altogether with the coffee (Italian) and digestifs from Catalunya (Ratafia, a wonderful liqueur made with herbs from the garrigue) and Navarra (Pacharan, sloe liqueur, also wonderful).  Everyone enjoyed it all very much.

Today, though, I had a strong craving for our more usual Mediterranean style of food, so for lunch we had mussels with aioli (garlic mayonnaise –my recipe is here).  The mussels in the Bassin de Thau aren’t at their best at this time of the year – after the winter (when we usually have very little rain and this year have had even less than usual) they need the spring rains to dilute the salinity of the lagoon so they can fatten up a bit.  So we bought some of the larger size (sold for cooking moules farcies).  While I made the aioli Lo Jardinièr cooked the mussels in a little white wine then removed the mussels from their shells, dipped them in beaten egg white and then in breadcrumbs and fried them in olive oil.  They were really good with a squeeze of lemon and the aioli.

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We’ve had some more cold nights, although not freezing, but the days are sunny and warm.  Walking around the village this afternoon we spotted this beautiful mimosa still in flower.

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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.

>Weekend treats / Les plaisirs du weekend

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La Jardinièra brought us some ceps she’d bought in the Halles Victor Hugo in Toulouse – lovely, earthy and wood-smelling, we cooked them in olive oil and butter and added chopped garlic and parsley. They were wonderful.

La Jardinièra nous a amené des ceps qu’elle avait acheté aux Halles Victor Hugo à Toulouse – ils sentaient du bois et de la terre. Nous les avons cuits à l’huile d’olive et puis nous avons ajouté de l’ail haché et du persil. Delicieux!

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Shellfish at Bouzigues / Le coquillage à Bouzigues

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Sunday lunch / le dîner de dimanche

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plateau de fruits de mer
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moules gratinées

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And, back home, we found that we’ve managed to grow some parsnips for the first time! They were lovely roasted whole in olive oil.

DSC09319Les panais – ils sont bons rotis à l’huile d’olive.

>The sea / La mer

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At Le Grau d’Agde today / Au Grau d’Agde aujourd’hui …

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The beach was empty /  La plage était déserte

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The sea was warm and we swam  / L’eau était belle et on s’est bagné

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and then ate mussels by the beach – with Roquefort sauce for me, saffron sauce for Lo Jardinièr / et puis on a mangé des moules – au Roquefort pour moi, au safran pour Lo Jardinièr.

We’ll garden tomorrow! / On travaillera au jardin demain!

>August harvest and preserving tomatoes / La récolte d’août et conserver les tomates

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Yesterday’s harvest. The Borlotti beans are infested with some kind of grub and we had to throw away about a third of them. I cooked the good ones and put them into a tomato sauce which we’ll eat cold as a salad tomorrow. I’ve made the Roma tomatoes into tomato purée, using the method I used last year. It saves space on the shelves since two big trays of chopped tomatoes were reduced down to five jars.

Le récolte d’hier. Les haricots Borlotti ont une sorte de larve dedans et on a dû en jéter un tiers. Je les ai cuits et les ai mis dans une sauce tomate pour manger fraiche comme une salade demain. J’ai fait de la purée de tomate avec les Romas, la mème recette de l’année dernière.

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I made chutney with the courgettes, using a recipe from MaryAthenes’ blog, which you can eat with meat or cheese like a vegetable. I just cut the courgette and onion into pieces, added spices – cinnamon and paprika – and sugar and a jar of last year’s tomato passata, covered with red wine vinegar and simmered it for about an hour, then put it into sterilised jars. I made a similar chutney using the aubergines.

J’ai fait du chutney en utilisant la recette du blog de MaryAthenes, qu’on peut manger comme un légume avec de la viande ou du fromage. J’ai fait un chutney pareil avec les aubergines.

Chillies / Piments rouges

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The red chillies are hanging in the sun to dry. / Les piments rouges sont suspendus pour secher au soleil.

Mussels again / Les moules encore

Tonight we had mussels with Roquefort cheese. We cooked them as usual in a little white wine with some sprigs of thyme and savory, then added chopped Roquefort, some chopped garlic and crème fraiche. They were very good. I had red wine from Roquessels with them, Lo Jardinièr had rosé wine from Gabian.

Ce soir nous avons mangé des moules au Roquefort. Nous les avons cuites comme d’habitude avec un peu de vin blanc et des brins de thym et de sariette. Puis nous avons ajouté du Roquefort coupé en petits morceaux, de l’ail haché et de la crème fraiche. C’était très bon.

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For dessert, the melon in the photo above, with a glass of muscat wine. / Pour dessert, le melon dans le photo dessus, accompagné d’un verre de vin de muscat.

The Guardian environment blog has returned to the question I linked to last week, of whether organic food is nutritionally better than non-organic. After this evening’s supper I am even more convinced than ever that locally grown and produced, sustainable food tastes better and that, as well as the effect of what I eat on the environment, is what matters to me. No food which was full of pesticides and had been transported around the world could ever taste as good as these local mussels, local cheese, local wine and fruit we grew in our garden.

>The longest day of the year / La journée la plus longue de l’an

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Just as we did on the shortest day of 2008, we had lunch in the garden. This time the shadows were a bit shorter but the coffee was as good. / Comme la journée la plus courte de 2008 on a mangé au jardin. Cette fois les ombres étaient plus courtes mais le café est toujours bon.

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Paella

One of our Spanish friends in the village says that paella should be cooked out of doors on a wood fire. So that’s what we did today. / Une de nos amies espagnoles au village dit que la paella doit être cuire dehors au feu de bois. Donc, c’est ça que nous avons fait aujourd’hui.

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Paella with mussels and chorizo / Paella aux moules et au chorizo.

Locusts / acacia-criquets

There are some things I find in the garden that I don’t photograph for this blog. Yesterday when I saw a locust on one of our aubergine plants I didn’t rush for the camera. I called Lo Jardinièr to come and squash it. Last year one of these huge insects at most of the leaves of an aubergine plant in one afternoon. I don’t know how we can deter them. One suggestion on the Internet was a mixture of chilli and paraffin, so I ground a couple of red chillis and mixed them with alcool à bruler (a spirit you certainly wouldn’t want to drink). I then painted this mix onto some of the leaves.

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I hope it works. I’m worried that it may damage the leaves.

** UPDATE: this burnt the leaves, so I won’t do it again. The best way to get rid of pests – locusts, beetles – is to squash them individually, we’ve found.

J’ai mis un mélange de piment rouge et alcool à bruler sur les feuilles d’aubergine dissueader les acacia-criquets de les manger.




And a butterfly / Et un papillon

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Lo Jardinièr found this Red Admiral butterfly which stopped just long enough for him to take this photo.

Courgettes and cucumbers / Les courgettes et les concombres

It’s a nice problem to have – what can we do with all our courgettes? Yesterday we picked 1.7 kg. I’ve stuffed some with meat and some with olives and onions, I’ve stewed them with some of last year’s preserved tomatoes and we’ve had fried courgettes, courgette fritters and stuffed courgette flowers. Luckily, we really love courgettes! And the cucumbers seem to grow as you look at them.

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Garlic grown from bulbs I bought in the market last autumn and planted around a terracotta pot watering system. / L’ail cultivé du ce que j’ai acheté sur le marché en automne.
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And a sunflower in the sun / Et un tournesol au soleil.

>Languedoc light / La lumière du Languedoc

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Since I’ve been back from our trip to Wales I’ve noticed more than I usually do how wonderful the light is here.  Even though the sun shone while we were in Wales, the light seems so much brighter and clearer here – a Mediterranean light.  One that has been appreciated by artists.  We’re not far from Collioure where Matisse and Derain painted in the early years of the 20th century and began a new movement called Fauvism (from the French fauves, wild beasts).  We’ve noticed too how the quality of the light changes around Carcassonne if you’re travelling from west to east – suddenly the haze lifts and everything looks sharp and clear.

Depuis mon retour du Pays de Galles j’ai remarqué plus que d’habitude la lumière languedocienne.  La lumière ici est beaucoup plus clair que celle du Pay de Galles – une lumière mediterranéenne.  Nous ne sommes loin de Collioure où les artistes Matisse et Derain ont peint au debut du 20ème siècle et où ils ont fondé le mouvement qui s’appèle le Fauvisme.  Nous aussi, on a remarqué que la qualité de la lumière change vers Carcassonne quand on voyage de l’ouest à l’est – tout à coup la brume se lève et tout semble clair.

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I love the contrast of light and shade and the sharp shadows of plants against a sunny wall / J’aime le contraste de la lumière et l’ombre et les ombres prononcées des plantes sur un mur ensoleillé.

Mussels for lunch / Les moules pour le déjeuner

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We bought mussels from the van from Bouzigues and cooked them over a wood fire at the garden with lardons (bacon pieces) and thyme, then garnished them with chopped savory and garlic and a squeeze of lemon.  A delicious lunch!

On a acheté des moules du producteur de Bouzigues et on les a cuites au lardons et au thym sur un feu de bois au jardin.  Garnies de l’ail haché et de sariette et un peu de jus de citron, elles on fait un déjeuner delicieux!

We worked too.  We planted some of our tomato plants – the Yellow Pear which we bought.  We’ll plant the others tomorrow.  And we made sure that the courgette plants will get watered by making a channel through the bed.

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La première fleur du ciste au jardin
Our first cistus flower came out.  They are already flowering in the garrigue and this is later than last year in the garden.  Each flower lasts only one day and this one fell quickly because it was windy.  There’ll be more tomorrow.
butterfly on thyme_1 Lo Jardinièr found this butterfly on the thyme.  We think it is

Brenthis daphne

Marbled Fritillary