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!

Artichoke – singular?

I’m wondering whether I’ll have to change the name of my blog.  The artichoke plants, which had been doing well throughout the winter, suffered badly in the cold weather we had in February and are only just beginning to recover, too late for a good crop this year, I fear.  This is the only artichoke I can see developing on any of the surviving plants.

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On the other hand, we have plenty of broad beans and I’ll be putting some in the freezer for later in the year, when they’ll be an even greater treat than they are now.

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The tomato plants have grown well since they’ve been planted out – they always seem to stretch out their roots and just grow once they have the space to do so.  The lettuce plants between the rows benefit from the watering and will all have been eaten by the time the tomatoes grow big enough to cover them.

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Do have a look at Lo Jardinèr’s post today where he links this morning’s inauguration of the new French president with asphodels, Ancient Greece and a beautiful piece of music.

The beginning of summer?

I always feel that once we have the tomatoes planted out in the garden I can believe that summer will come.  This weekend we spent a couple of mornings putting up the canes for the first 32 plants and planted out 16 – 4 coeur de boeuf, 4 ananas, 4 Andes, and 4 of a variety that we unwittingly created from cross-fertilisation two years ago and that I’ve named Gabian breakfast because each fruit is just the right size for one person to rub on bread, Spanish-style, at breakfast.

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Putting up the cane frames for the tomatoes – luckily we have a constant supply from the bamboo that grows at the end of the garden.

These Languedocian and Roma plants will be the next to be put out in the garden:

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The peppers have been very slow to grow this year and need a bit more warmth and nurturing on the balcony before they can fend for themselves outside:

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After our work in the garden yesterday morning we came home to a good Sunday lunch of pot-roasted pigeon with polenta, loosely based on, or maybe I should say inspired by, Nigel Slater’s recipe in the Observer.  Instead of marsala and grapes I used some figs that I’d conserved in Armagnac a couple of years ago and these flavours were wonderfully rich with the pigeon.  I also added garlic (as I usually do), lardons and oregano.  I had a small fire in the pan when I thought it was all simmering nicely and put the lid on, but the alcohol hadn’t all burned off so the pan filled with flames.  I wished I’d had the camera ready because it looked quite spectacular!

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I bought the pigeon at one of the two excellent butcher’s shops in Roujan – Franck Perez – and while I was there I asked Mme Perez how she felt the new supermarket that has just opened on the outskirts of the village would affect their trade.  She seemed to think it will be all right because people will always want proper meat from a proper butcher even if everyone does have to go to supermarkets to buy washing powder etc.  I hope she’s right.  The other butcher, which I think is slightly less excellent, will have a shop inside the new supermarket, so clearly they think that’s where there future lies.  I shall continue going to Franck Perez because he sells such good meat.

Nine-day wonders

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It always seems nothing short of a miracle when tomato seeds saved from last summer germinate like this, and a further miracle (I hope) when they go on to produce this summer’s crop.  All nine varieties are growing well nine days after sowing.  And now the pepper seeds, sown a week ago, have started to germinate too.  The new season is on its way.

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And the last of last summer – we started eating the last of our Chilean ‘smashing pumpkins’ today, roasting part of it to eat with cuisse de canard confit.  I cheated a bit with the duck confit, starting with fresh duck legs and slow-roasting them in their own fat with olive oil and herbs added, covered with foil for about 3 hours and then uncovered and drained from their fat to brown.  Just like the real thing!

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Of course, it’s essential to have a glass of red wine with this dish, following the rules of what is known as the French paradox: that people in the south-west of France eat a lot of duck fat but still have long healthy lives because they drink red wine with it.  I’m not going to argue with that.

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Our cheese course was very local – Mas Rolland demi-sec and cendré (coated in wood ash) goats’ cheeses, which also go well with the local red Faugères.

New broom and a lizard

The signs of spring seem to be accelerating.  The broom is flowering up the hill from our garden, next of one of the ruined mills that used to grind flour but sadly have been left to tumble down.

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And I saw my first lizard of the year out in the sun on the garden shed.

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Other hopeful signs were the tiny leaf buds on the pomegranate tree we planted last year and were worried about during the cold weather, the apricot tree now covered with flower buds just about to open and grape hyacinths flowering.  At the house, we’ve been amazed by how quickly some of the tomato seeds having germinated – some of them taking only four days.

>Planting out the first tomatoes

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We’ve planted out 12 Roma plants (left) and 18 Languedocian plants so far….many more still waiting.
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The cistus flowers (left) each last only a day before the petals fall, but there are plenty of buds in the garden and in the wild in the garrigue.  The irises last a bit longer – these (centre) are in our garden, but they’re often planted along the edges of vineyards too.  The orange poppy (right) is in the garden too, and all the rough patches of ground between the vineyards are covered with the flowers of the red, wild ones.

>After a rainy week…

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Weeds around a mazet (vineyard shelter) near Roquessels:

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Cucumbers and aubergines flowering and beans reaching the tops of their poles:

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The tomato plants growing well, flowering and bearing small tomatoes.  All they need is some sun now. On the left are the Coeur de boeuf tomatoes, on the right the Roma plants.  We leave the side shoots to grow on the Romas because they seem to do well as bushy, short plants supported by horizontal canes along the sides of the rows.

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The apricot tree (left) looks healthy with a lot of new growth, even though there is only one apricot on it, and there are apples on the apple tree.

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The oleanders are a bit weighed down by the rain, but both the pink and the red are flowering.

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>Fire and rain

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La Fête de Saint Jean is the traditional pagan midsummer celebration, which has been given a Christian saint’s name by the church but which is still very pagan. It should take place on 24 June, but we’re a bit ahead of the times in Gabian, and we had our paella meal and bonfire last night on rough ground near the river.

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Marché fermier

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The weather was warm and sunny yesterday evening for the celebrations, but today it was cloudy and threatening thunder from the start. And it looked worse up in the hills where we headed for the farmers’ market at Mas Rolland, the hamlet and goat farm where we buy cheese, and goat manure for the garden during the winter. In spite of the bad weather the stalls were busy selling wonderful local produce: traditionally milled flour, chestnut flour, wine, olive oil, free range pork, goats’ cheeses, of course, and cooked food – with potatoes cooked in duck fat a speciality – by the plate to be eaten at tables in the sun or shade (usually). Today it began to rain heavily just before lunchtime – great for the garden but not for those hoping for a Sunday meal outdoors.

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goats’ cheeses to taste and buy
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‘a green thought in a green shade’ (Andrew Marvell)
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olives and olive oil from Fabrègues
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potatoes cooked in duck fat

And in the garden …

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We have our first small tomatoes on the Languedocian plants, the tomato plants are all growing quickly, needing tying up and sideshoots removing almost ever day, and the oleander flowers are out.

>Home again!

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We’re home again after a wonderful week visiting family in Wales.  We had hot weather in Wales and we’ve returned to hot weather here.  Luckily we’d asked our neighbour to water our garden and everything has grown well while we were away, especially the tomato plants.  The lettuces we planted in between the tomato rows are ready to eat now, having benefited from the water given to the tomatoes.

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There was a thunderstorm just after we arrived home yesterday evening and there is still plenty of water in the stream running down from the spring at the top of the hill.

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DSC03784 The tomato and cucumber plants have start to flower, and need a lot of work, tying them to their supports and removing the sideshoots on the tomato plants.  The olive trees are covered in tiny flowers, many of which we hope will grow into olives.

The courgettes are also flowering – only male flowers so far as usual at the beginning of the season, so we made fritters with a few of them.  A delicious treat with salad leaves from the garden and a glass of rosé from the Domaine des Pascales in the village.

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We’ve picked far more broad beans and mangetout peas than we can possible eat, so we’re putting a lot of them in the freezer.  Unlike some other vegetables – courgettes especially – peas and beans freeze very well.  We at some of the mangetouts, and for supper I made a chilled broad bean soup, my version of a recipe in Frank Camorra and Richard Cornish’s Movida Rustica: Spanish Traditions and Recipes.  It’s made with raw broad beans liquidised with garlic cloves, olive oil and some bread soaked in water.  I added a sweet onion because we have so many in the garden now.  After chilling, the soup is served with a garnish of cured ham, a few peeled broad beans and some herbs.  Frank Camorra suggests mint, but I used oregano because I’d forgotten to pick the mint.  Any fresh herbs would give it a good flavour.  It was wonderfully creamy and a good  first course for a hot evening.

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