28 October 2007

Winter's on it's way !

We've had lots of Crane (Grue Cendrée) formations like this passing above us for the past few days. The birds make an incredible noise while they're flying and it's interesting to watch how the leader drops off from time to time to let another take his or her place. There are the inevitable stragglers and you just can't help cheering them on as they struggle to keep up with the rest in the long journey south.

If you want to track the course of the cranes, or add your own sightings, go to the European recording site where there's a lot of information on this magestic bird.

Seeing them pass on their way south is a glorious sight - and a sure sign that winter's on it's way.

We've been getting ready for the cold weather too and as there's still a bit of heat in the October sun, I've been doing a lot of hand-washing of socks - drying them first outside on the terrace, then bringing them in to dry near the wood burner which we lit for the first time this week. Washing by hand sounds like a bit of a drudge, but once I've found all the matching socks it's lovely to discover old friends who'll keep you nice and warm all winter and the job becomes a pleasure - especially on a bright sunny day.

October sun for drying the socksdrying socks

I started making socks from our goats' wool for ourselves because there's nothing worse than having cold or uncomfortable feet when you're working outside all day.

I make them on a single bed machine from a pattern I designed and gradually adapted for a perfect fit, with no possibility of the socks going under the foot in wellies (Oh how I loathe that feeling!) and I make sure that the socks are easy to get on and off - very important at the end of a long day when you don't really feel like struggling to get your boots and socks off.

Some of our socks are more than ten years old and although I often have to darn or patch them when they wear at the heel, it's worth doing because they're still comfortable to wear. One of the nice things about woolen socks is that the wool absorbs a lot of moisture yet still feels warm and soft. You can wear woollen socks for days and days - the only limit being your own conscience !

You can buy these socks direct from us, or you can buy the mohair to knit your own pattern or use my machine pattern which I'll put into a separate posting in this blog.

19 October 2007

Wood pigeon for supper !

The Palombe season is in full swing and chez nous you can see masses of pigeons pass in clouds three or four times a day. I don't think I've ever seem so many birds in one flight as I have this year.

Fabrice has been visiting palombiers, (Shooting towers in the trees.) and he's taken some photographs for me. This is one of them - but don't look down !

Two of our neighbours have built a new Palombière which is 14 metres high. They've spent all summer cutting long straight pine trees, manipulating them round a huge Oak tree, attaching the beams and getting everything into place. It's a real labour of love. They've built a little hut on top and put branches and fern around to hide the structure and themselves. Fabrice was asked to join them on Saturday morning and between three of them, they got seven palombe- which is a pretty good morning's hunting.

These are beautiful well-fed birds who may well have landed in a cornfield where they're a lot of uncollected cobs and corn left after the machine had done it's job. There's a lot of "waste" when the corn's gathered, but none of the corn gets wasted at all really.

When we plucked and gutted these two birds they were full of corn and in perfect condition.

I cooked them the evening they were killed. I used duck fat the brown them, turning often on a very high heat. Then I removed the birds and used the pan to brown the last of the garden potatoes which I then put into the oven to finish cooking. I put the Palombe back into the pan and added some shallots and some Bourru - an unfermented wine which our friends with vines bring us at this time of the year. We've a lot of it and it doesn't keep, so in it went.

I scraped everything that was stuck to the pan then when it was bubbling turned the gas right down and after about an hour we had a lovely meal with some left over for lunch the next day. We had that cold with chutney and good bread and the dogs got the bones well boiled in water in their kibble in the evening.

18 October 2007

Fabrice doing the roof beams up there - we're so pleased to see the whole thing going together.

15 October 2007

The Environment

I hardly ever talk about the environment these days, so people who don't know me probably think I don't care or I don't realise how important it is.

If they'd met me over thirty years ago they'd have seen that I still believed that it was possible to "do something". I was the "pain in the bum" telling people to switch off lights, get rid of their cars, grow food, buy organic or local food, keep chickens, use solar power...

I was then - I still am - passionate about simple living. I think somewhere along the way, we've forgotten than it's really wonderful enjoying what we've been given rather than inventing more and more complicated and expensive ways of finding new highs that more and more people can't share.

I wanted to do a post for Blog Action Day in the hope that some sort of miracle can happen if only we just start behaving ourselves and think about the greedy things we do to to the earth and to each other and talk about what we're going to do.

For me the real issue now is how we humans are going to manage without the cheap energy we got used to during the "oil age" and how we will come to terms with our continuing lack of energy resouces for an infrastructure of production and distribution of goods that we rely so heavily on to live "normal" lives.

In the last few years it's become very fashionable to talk about "saving the planet", but the planet will get by very well indeed without us.

14 October 2007

We got the corn harvest in this weekend

Normally, we just fill the dryer with a bit left over, but this year because of all the rain everyone in the village is really pleased with their crops and we're all trying to find suitable containers to store and dry the corn so that it lasts well all year.

We use the same machines all round the village, going from field to field loading the wagons, then one by one we get our corn dryers filled. The men work together with several tractors pulling all the different machines needed to do the job. It's very exciting and a good crop like this means we don't have to spend money buying in expensive feed for our animals. I've put a slideshow of photos at the bottom of this post because it takes ages to load and by the time you finish reading the post you should be able to see more photographs.

We use the corn for feeding our pigs, sheep, goats and poultry and the local wild birds do very well on it too ! We also swop the corn for other cereals like barley and wheat with our neighbours.

We give the whole cobs to the goats and pigs and they have to work to nibble the corn off. We have a hand machine to grain the corn for our sheep and poultry and we've a neighbour with an electric machine who'll do a load for us when we visit him.

I've gathered in most of my Indian sweet corn which I planted in the potager, it's a good crop too although about eight of the cobs were attacked by a mushroom and disfigured. In France this is considered a "maladie" called "Charbon" and the corn is worthless. I was really disappointed and showed the corn to my Flickr friend Podchef (Now there's a man who can cook!) and he suggested that it was a highly prized delicacy in Mexico called Huitlacoche !

Huitlacoche [wee-tlah-KOH-cheh]
Mexican Corn Truffle
Huitlacoche (also spelled cuitlacoche) is a fungus which grows naturally on ears of corn (Ustilago maydis). The fungus is harvested and treated as a delicacy. The earthy and somewhat smoky fungus is used to flavor quesadillas, tamales, soups and other specialty dishes.

Fortunately, I didn't give Peggy all the "damaged" cobs, so I'm going to try cooking with the Hiutlacoche and see how it tastes. Fabrice will never eat it - I just know...

Here are the four cob colours I got from last year's saved seeds and I want to keep as many as I can of the best from this year for planting on a bigger patch next year.

4 cobs all different

...and here's the corn harvest Slideshow:

11 October 2007

What a great few days !!

I've only been away for a few days, but when I got back home the air felt cooler and smelled of Autumn. This is the first time I've taken a plane in a long time and I did it because I really needed to go and get back quickly. I feel very naughty flying, but I'm so glad I went because I really needed to see my friends and recharge my batteries a bit before winter comes.

The first night in the UK, I stayed with some old friends Jack and Anne. Jack picked me up from the airport and we got home in just enough time for Anne to show me round their lovely gardens and visit the bulb shop they opened this year, part of it is shown in this photograph.

We spent ages wandering around the garden and talking about plants and planting. I'm in awe of Anne's memory for Latin names. I remember the names I learned a long time ago, but I have the feeling that there's not a lot of room left for the new ones I've tried to remember ever since I've been learning French. How Anne can remember thousands of species and varieties of the bulbs she's got is a complete mystery to me.

Being able to wander around a garden owned by someone who will sell you the plants that you can see growing is great, but it's even nicer when the owner's a friend and she'll let you take all the ripe seeds you can find paper bags for!

I've watched their business grow with great interest. Jack and Anne were neighbours in Theydon Bois in a lovely house called Rose Cottage. Like me and many other people in the village, they opened their gardens each year to the public under the National Gardens Scheme, selling plants to raise funds for Cancer charities. They became well known for having unusual and interesting plants to sell and attracted a lot of visitors. Now, 11 years later, "Rose Cottage Plants" boasts an amazing collection of unusual perennials and possibly the best collection of bulbs you've ever seen - all available for sale in their on-line bulb shop. They have a website Rose Cottage Plants. with a superb informative Plant list - and this web page is only the "A"s!

Next day, I caught a train to Northampton where I was picked up by an internet pal and the day after, after a bit of gardening and a lot of cake baking, we made our way into the wilds of Wales where, at the wedding of one of our group the biggest treat of all lay in store - meeting up again with all the women I've been in contact over the past few years on the 'net - a bunch of women who have become a lifeline for me. We spent Saturday morning having fun decorating the couple's huge barn with plants and flowers, taking delivery and preparing all the fantastic local food to feed everyone.

The wedding was beautiful, in a tiny little church overlooking the Welsh valleys. The bride wore a glorious red dress with a magestic train and the groom wore the kilt.

Even the Welsh rain stopped just at the right moment when we left the church to make our way back to the reception which was a grand affair, with afternoon tea and hundreds of home made cakes and later in the evening, a huge barbeque of Highland cattle burgers and steaks, followed by fireworks.

The atmosphere was lovely and it was great to share such a happy day surrounded by so many wonderful women. Still, all good things must come to an end and late the next morning, after cleaning up the barn and finishing off our swopping session (which is always an exciting part of our get-togethers) we headed back to the Midlands to meet up with another friend who couldn't make it to the wedding but wanted to see us and get some things from the swops and we shared yet more cake. The following day I caught the plane back to Bergerac - exhausted but full of energy and inspiration.