Birthday flowers

Lo Jardinièr’s blog, An entangled bank, celebrates its first birthday today. Do go over and see what he’s doing, and I think their are some party presents too. Lo Jardinièr is the wild flower expert so I thought I’d give him a bunch of flowers from the garden, cultivated rather than wild, today:

rose banksiae-1

climbing Banksiae rose

rosebudanother climbing rose nearby on the shelter where we eat in the garden

salviaa Salvia that’s almost too bright for the camera

californian poppyCalifornian poppy

coronellaCoronella

geranium

Geranium

cistus

Cistus

and a wild one on the path to the garden, a flower that was open for just a few hours,

wild salsify, Tragopogon porrifolius

salsify

Many happy returns to the entangled bank!

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Spring Sunday

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This butterfly was drying out its wings in the sunshine this morning, before we went home to lunch. A few very tasty wild asparagus spears with bread made with flax seeds:

asparagus-2

 

and pot-roasted chicken legs with leeks (the last of this winter’s from the garden) and jambon cru. I cooked the leeks with an onion and a few sliced garlic cloves in olive oil until they were soft, put a layer of slices of cured ham some sprigs of wild thyme and then the chicken legs and a thinly sliced carrot on top, and added a good glassful of white wine, salt and pepper.After simmering it for about an hour we ate it with orzo, a rice-shaped pasta that went very well with the winey, chicken sauce.

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Another sign of spring is the appearance of borage flowers on the edges of vineyards and on walls. In the past I’ve made a kind of Turkish börek, filo pastry parcels stuffed with cheese and lightly cooked borage leaves. Don’t eat them raw as they’re very prickly. This year I want to make a version of the borage and walnut ravioli we bought a couple of weeks ago at an Italian stall in Clermont-l’Hérault market. If it works, I’ll post the recipe!

borage-4

Unwrapping the palms + a birthday treat

pain du pecheur-1This pain du pecheur was served as an extra, a tapa or an accompaniment to the main course, at lunch at La Maison du Pecheur on the quayside at Mèze yesterday. Simple and delicious, it’s definitely something we’ll be trying at home soon: slices of rustic bread topped with a spicy garlicky mix of tomato, red pepper and anchovy. Our main course was a platter of grilled shellfish – mussels and clams with breadcrumbs, herbs and garlic, mussels with Roquefort, oysters with leeks and cream, gambas – served with a baked potate and a provençale tomato.

plateau de coquillage-2

It was fun, tasty, and relaxed. We were almost the last to leave our table with a view of the port, but we didn’t feel rushed and were even offered a complimentary glass of marc de muscat, a new digestif for us, produced from the must after the sweet Muscat de Frontignan is made, very aromatic and sweet smelling. It was a lovely birthday treat for me.

As we finished eating we noticed a nice sign of spring – the palm trees along the quay were being unwrapped from their winter fleeces.

palms-3

Spring keeps on trying

A couple of sunny, warm days when we can eat outside in the garden at lunchtime, followed by a couple of cooler, wet days – that seems to be the pattern of this spring and it’s good for the plants, which get a nice combination of warmth, longer days and water.

peach blossom

Peach blossom, above, and artichokes in Clermont-l’Hérault market below:

artichauts-1

Happy bees and wet olive trees

Somehow a whole week has passed since I last posted on this blog, and it’s been a typical spring week – a mix of warm sunny days, on one of which we ate lunch outside a café by the sea, feeling hot in the sun, and grey, gloomy days like today.

First, a happy bee, one of many buzzing around a wild Coronilla shrub at the edge of the village:

bee-1

bee-2

And then the olive trees – unfortunately the rain had to fall on the day fixed for an olive pruning demonstration organised by the Moulin de Casso in the village and the local branch l’Association Française Interprofessionnelle de l’Olive. We’d been told that if it rained we would be treated to a slide show in the salle des fetes – I wasn’t surprised because here in the Midi hardly any one goes out if it rains. But I was surprised to find that we did after all go to the olive grove and watch the real thing – much better than slides, of course.

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In spite of the cold and the rain we were given a good idea of how to get the best out of olive trees – in our case only two small ones, but the course is aimed at all olive growers, from large-scale professionals to people like us who have a few trees in their gardens. And readers of this blog, and anyone who knows anything about the Midi, won’t be surprised to know that the morning ended with apéritifs accompanied by tapenade made from last year’s crop from these trees, followed by a very good lunch of charcuterie, cassoulet, cheese and apple pie, with white and red wine and muscat de Rivesaltes with the dessert… and a lot of Occitan joia e convivença (happiness and conviviality).

Signs of spring

It was hot in the sun in the garden today, the bees were buzzing around the rosemary flowers and the blossom, the carpenter bees were trying to find nesting places in holes in pieces of wood – spring seems to have arrived!

The broad bean plants sown in October are beginning to flower and the plants from the second sowing in November are not far behind them.

broad bean flower-1

 

The apricot blossom is about to open

apricot

 

and the wild plum tree that appeared in our garden, like a weed only a fruitful one, is flowering too:

wild plum-1

 

Even the aubretia – not a plant that really belongs in a Mediterranean garden, but one that seems to have settled well here – is starting to flower:

aubretia-1

 

The robin in the apple tree has been around all winter, of course, but it’s the first time I’ve managed to get a reasonable photo of it.

robin-1

 

And then home to another bird – a roast chicken. It was a large (over 2 kilos) farmyard chicken so I left it in a medium oven (170°C) for a couple of hours while we were out, covered with a paste made from half a preserved lemon (salted and left in a jar of olive oil for at least a month), two large cloves of garlic, two teaspoons of paprika, some sea salt and two tablespoons of olive oil, whizzed into a paste in the food processor. I put the chicken in a large cast-iron casserole with a lid and added a glass of white wine. When we came home it was ready to eat with rice cooked with dried orange peel. It was a very good chicken – one that had lived rather than a pale tasteless supermarket one – and it did taste very good.

chicken-1

There’s plenty left for a couple more meals too. In the shop the bird still had its feet, head and neck, which the butcher removed for us. But we asked to keep the neck, which made a nice stock for Lo Jardinièr to use when he made risotto yesterday. I haven’t dared ask for the feet yet – I’m not sure what I would do with them!

Up in flames

It felt like spring in the garden today – hot in the sun, especially when we were working, and warm enough too just to sit and enjoy what feels like a new season. It was time to burn some of the weeds and trimmings that won’t compost, before the rain that is forecast – at last – for the next few days.

fire-1

 

While Lo Jardinièr made sure that the fire didn’t spread, because everything is very dry at the moment and he had the hose pipe ready to put out any stray flames, I sowed a row of mangetout peas next to the two double rows of broad beans, sown in the autumn and doing well now, almost ready to flower.

Before we went out to the garden I put 450 grams of sautée de porc (a cut of pork that best for stewing or braising) in an earthenware dish with the vegetables we happened to have – a sliced onion, bulb of fennel and parsnip, some pieces of chorizo, some peeled cloves of garlic and some bay leaves. I poured a glass of white wine over them, covered the dish with aluminium foil and left it in the oven (not too hot – 180°C in our not very efficient oven) with some large potatoes baking on the shelf next to it. When we got home a couple of hours later lunch was ready!

lunch

Dry spring

Although it’s been cold we’ve had very little rain this month, worrying for the garden and the water table since February is usually one of the wettest months here before the dry weather begins in April and brings drought until the autumn. The vines survive the drought because they have such deep roots and can always find enough water, but the vineyards look barren now, with the vines pruned and no sign of spring growth yet.

mazet and vines-3

 

The almond trees are still flowering, though, and the blossoms seem to have survived the cold wind we had last weekend.

almond blossom1

 

almond blossom-2

 

In the huge area that was burnt by wildfire the autumn before last – see my slideshow here – there’s proof of nature’s ability to regenerate. Among the still blackened lentisk branches (Pistacia lentiscus) spring new shoots of bright green red-edged leaves:

lentisc-1

 

And the evening light on the village looked warm even if the nights are still cold.

Village February evening