>Dydd Gŵyl Dewi / Saint David’s Day

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And this year (unlike last year’s cold spring) there are a few daffodils out in the garden for the event…

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On Friday evening we’ll be holding our now traditional soirée galloise for our Occitan/French friends and we’re planning a meal of laverbread (seaweed) and bacon, cawl (a Welsh soup/stew of lamb, leeks, onions and potatoes), Caerphilly cheese and welsh cakes.  It’s the only day in the year when we depart from our usual Mediterranean diet!

Dydd Gŵyl Dewi hapus i bawb! / Happy St. David’s Day to all!

>Blossom on the apricot and other signs of spring

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We arrived back yesterday evening from grey, cold Wales, although with a lot of happy family memories of our holiday, to find that we’d travelled back into spring.  People here warn that we may still have cold weather but today has been glorious with bright warm sunlight and the temperature up to 18 degrees C.

The apricot tree is covered in flower buds, some of which have begun to open.

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More spring flowers

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Violets (left), aubretia just beginning to flower (centre) and daffodils (right).

And a salad for lunch

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A mix of lettuce and spinach leaves picked this morning.

>Leaves and light

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Without the chilly north wind today would be a warm spring day (20 degrees C was forecast) and the light is clear and bright.

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Above: olive branches and a blue sky; aloe vera leaves in dappled shade; bay leaves.

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Above: left and centre, hopeful signs on our apricot tree which has plenty of flower and leaf buds.  It had the same last year but the blossom was killed off by late cold weather at the beginning of March, so we had only one fruit on the tree.  This year, I hope the crop will be better.  And, right, flower buds about to open on our neighbour’s almond tree.

This morning we collected another trailer full of well-rotted manure for the beds where we’ll grow tomatoes and peppers this summer.  We also picked two lettuces and some red cabbage leaves – that’s just about all we can eat from the garden at the moment.  The chard and spinach are beginning to grow again after a dormant few weeks in December and January, but need to be left to recover from the cold for a few days longer.

>Light and, best of all, manure…

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The sun is still very low even at mid-day, but the low light looked beautiful through the climbing rose and passion flower leaves on our garden shelter, and through the olive trees, this morning.

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We collected a trailer load of horse manure from the paddock where our friend whose grapes we picked keeps her horses.  It will be great for the garden, as it’s well rotted, and we spread it on some of the beds that we’ve cleared.  In a week or so we’ll go and fetch some more.

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Modern communications in a wild landscape

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We sometimes complain about what modern innovations are doing to the environment and we’re certainly not happy about the housing development next to our garden.  The electricity pylons are unmissable, eyesores perhaps, but necessary, and next to the one on the left are two mobile phone masts which mean that finally there is reception for our mobiles in the village – everyone welcomes that!

>Oysters for new year

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We opened these, added a dash of white wine, a little cream and some grated cheese, then grilled them, to eat at the start of an evening at home with friends that saw us at midnight toasting 2011 with Blanquette de Limoux – a methode champagnoise wine from the Aude which I think is as good as champagne – and Cava, a similar and equally good Catalan wine.

Happy new year!

Blwyddyn newydd dda!

Bonne année!

Bona annada!

To complete the Occitan new year greeting, I’ll wish all you gardeners Bona annada, plan granada (a happy new year, full of fruitfulness, or literally with many grains or seeds).

I was excited to find yesterday that my food photos, submitted for the December assignment, are reviewed on the Guardian Camera Club website here

>Work and feasting

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We’ve had our family staying for the past week – the reason why I haven’t posted on this blog for a while – and yesterday the weather was so warm and sunny that we spent several hours in the garden and had our lunch there for the first time for weeks.

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Before pruning the larger of our two olive trees quite severely I took photos of the branches in the sun.

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We burnt some of the old year, and the sun was so warm there was even a butterfly on one of the cold frames.

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A simple lunch in the sun – olives from the tree I’d just pruned, bread, olive oil, butternut squash soup and cheese.

Flamingos

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On a trip to Marseillan at the weekend we saw two groups of flamingos sheltering on the land side of the lagoon to keep out of the strong north wind.  The lagoon, which is usually calm, was quite rough.

A midwinter feast

As we do every year, at midday on 25 December we had apéritifs in the garden – olives from our own trees and sweet wine made by friends in the village.  We spent the rest of the afternoon, until it was dark, cooking and eating the various courses of the one meal we have on that day.  Here are some of the dishes we ate:

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Apéritifs in the garden.
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Clams cooked in olive oil, garlic and parsley, with a glass of Cava we brought back from our trip to Catalunya in the autumn.
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Foie gras with black and red peppercorns.
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Gambas – large prawns – sautéed in olive oil and garlic, with eau de vie added at the end of the cooking.
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Pigeons with apricot stuffing.
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With the pigeons we drank a bottle of the best wine produced by our favourite vigneron at Roquessels.
There was grilled bream for our one non-meat eater, roast potatoes, and broad beans (from the garden and frozen last summer).  All this was followed by Roquefort cheese, then a bûche de Noël made by the boulanger in the village. IMGP4538 To finish, with our coffee, we had cherries from our neighbour’s tree which I preserved in Armagnac the summer before last.

>La pòmpa a l’òli – an Occitan festive bread

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This is a traditional sweet bread made in the Languedoc and in Provence at this time of the year – la pòmpa a l’òli (literally ‘the oil pump’).

It is made with olive oil and orange flour water so it has a wonderful flavour and smells delicious when it is being baked. I used: 400 gm flour, 100 gm sugar, 80 gm olive oil, a tablespoon of orange flower water, 8 gm dried yeast, the grated peel of an orange, a small glass of warm water and a pinch of salt. Mix all the ingredients together and knead, as for bread, then leave the ball of dough in a bowl covered with a tea towel in a warm place until it has doubled in size – it can take several hours. Form the dough into two round flat loaves, about 2 cm high and bake in a hot oven – 200 degrees C – for about fifteen minutes, watching it carefully to make sure it doesn’t burn. Take out of the oven and allow to cool on a rack.

The tradition is that this bread must always be broken – cutting it with a knife will bring bad luck in the year to come!

Los tretze dessèrts

La pòmpa a l’òli is traditionally served with los tretze dessèrts (the thirteen desserts) during the Christmas and New Year celebrations. The thirteen desserts are: walnuts, dried figs, almonds, raisins, quince paste, white grapes, melon, candied citrus peel, apples, pears, plums, white nougat and black nougat (made with caramelised sugar). These are all presented on the same table and are eaten with the fingers, accompanied by pieces of the pòmpa a l’òli and sweet or fortified wine.

POLIDAS FESTAS! – HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

>Festive-looking mezes and very low sun

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The peppers I pickled a couple of months ago are the only ingredient in this meal that came from our garden, but I thought they all looked festive on the red cloth, ready for supper with friends last night. Starting from bottom left: hummus, black olives, pistachios, feta cheese, pickled green peppers, aubergine purée, grated carrot salad and, in the centre, taramasalata.

Almost the solstice

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I’m looking forward to when the days start getting longer again, but in the meantime I’m enjoying the long shadows cast by the low sun, even at midday.

>A few days in Catalunya

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We’ve just come back from a few days in El Port de la Selva on the Cap de Creus headland in Catalunya. It’s a working fishing port in an almost completely enclosed bay – we could see why it was chosen as a safe harbour because when we were in the port we couldn’t see the open sea at all.

IMGP1049 The view from the quayside as a fishing boat came into port.
IMGP1061 The nets being unrolled and laid out on the quay.
Nets and floats on the quay.
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As it was a fishing port, we did eat some very good sea food while we were there, especially the anchovies and the cuttlefish. One of the food highlights was a wonderful fideua on our first evening there, served with aioli and full of squid, clams and large prawns (left, below). The recipe for my own version of this paella made with noodles is on the Mediterranean cuisine blog – here. This one was much darker and, I would guess, cooked in liquid which included the squid ink. Another good dish was cuttlefish with meatballs, in a wonderful spicy sauce and surrounded by sautéed potatoes (right, below), which we ate one lunchtime on a terrace overlooking the port.

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Friday is market day in El Port de la Selva and the promenade along the port and beach was lined with stalls, mostly selling clothes, but also two fruit and vegetable stalls and a wonderful charcuterie and olive stall.

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And some souvenirs…

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We brought back a good selection of products from the charcuterie stall, some Cava, the sparkling wine made in Catalunya, and several varieties of olives oil, one from the Moulin du Mas St Pierre in French Catalunya, which I mentioned on the blog in April (here), one Arbequina oil available cheaply in a supermarket (the same variety of olives they grow at Mas St Pierre) and one local blended oil we bought from the market stall. We’ve bottled the larger quantities in 50 cl or 75 cl bottles so that we can taste them all without letting them go stale, although that’s not usually a problem for us as we eat a lot of olive oil. So we’ve got a few ways of prolonging the flavours of our holiday over the next few months!

Other food blogs

I seem to have offended the Guardian in some why by commenting on its food blog as I have had a comment removed by the moderator. I can’t understand what I have said that it takes objection to as it was nothing at all offensive, simply a description of the farmers’ market we went to in the summer, which I’ve written about on this blog and which I thought people might be interested to hear. I’m still waiting for a reply to a request for an explanation. As I’m sure readers of this blog know, my only intention in writing about food, gardening, markets…. etc. is to contribute to the enjoyment of people who, like me, value good food.

>A rainbow…. and some bad municipal planning

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On our way to buy wine this morning the end of this rainbow was almost over the village of Roquessels where we were heading.

No longer in use…

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At Chateau des Adouzes, where we buy wine, these barrels have been used for oak-ageing wine and now, having been used, are for sale.  I was tempted, but they’re quite big and I don’t know what we’d do with one.  The mazet on the left, near Roquessels, was a shelter for vineyard workers, one of many in this area, but is no longer used because people store their tools at home now and drive out to the vineyards in their vans, so they can go home for lunch and a siesta.  This one looks very well cared for.

‘Improvements’ in the village

The resurfacing of the roads in the Pioch, the oldest part of the village, has been an improvement over the old patchwork of tarmac and broken stones.   But some of the changes outside the church are a big mistake, I think.  The new cobbles are beautiful and there is a shelter for mourners to wait when there is a funeral in the church, but the road is now closed off here.  This will mean that all the traffic coming out of the old part of the village will have to go down one very narrow road – I’m glad I don’t live in that road, and I’m surprised the residents haven’t complained.  I hope, too, that the emergency services will be able to get through quickly enough if necessary.

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The old road out of the Pioch, past the church, now cobbled very attractively, but blocked off with stone blocks and a metal bollard.

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Now it seems that all the traffic, delivery vans included, will have to go down this very narrow, bending street and through the old place at the end.