Friday, July 22, 2011

Plum Harvest

The first plums of the year. We harvested à la Normande: we laid a tarp under the tree, P. did the shaking, we pulled the tarp together and the plums rolled into the bucket.

The first batch has been cooked down for juice for jelly. This takes more plums for fewer jars. Because the mirabelles are on the way! We have already laid the tarp, but please, no shaking yet! I don't have a professional kitchen, and there are books to be read and writing to be done!
However, a nice bread-and-butter plum pudding is waiting for the coffee break.
Warmed up with crème fraîche!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Norman Mussels

- Buy 1 liter mussels per person. Clean and debard them. Discard the ones that don't close on a tap.
- Fry in butter: onion, leek, carrot and garlic until golden.
- Add half a bottle of cider. Bring to a rolling boil.
- Add the mussels. Cover and cook for about 10 minutes until they have opened.
- Serve in a soup plate with the sauce. Stir in some crème fraîche.
- Mop up the juice with coarse brown bread.
- Serve a large salad afterwards on a clean plate.

We concluded the meal with home-made strawberry sorbet ice cream.

A feast!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Catching Mice

Every time we come here we borrow one of Bernard’s cats. She is completely used to travelling in an old pick nick basket, and upon arrival she will immediately claim her spots on the sofa and the beds.

Originally the purpose of this arrangement was for her to catch mice, but she does not quite keep her end of the bargain. She prefers to be stroked and to purr and to contemplate the world from her various view points in the garden.

However, I am not totally fair to her. She does catch mice, with gusto even; but not in the house. No, ma’am! If the doctor told me to get more exercise and I had the choice between running on a treadmill in the gym and a walk in the woods, wouldn’t I prefer the woods?

So now and then she will go out for a nice juicy bit of field mouse, sometimes accompanied by some veggies in the form of grass sprigs that are sticking sideways out of her mouth.

Hmm! Yummy!

Friday, July 15, 2011

Monsieur Cinquantes Centimètres

I wonder what has happened to Monsieur Cinquantes Centimètres and his wife. He acquired his name when P. and Bernard were building the fencing around our property. He came out to look, as he always does whenever there is activity in the neighbourhood, and he claimed that the pickets should be hammered in 50 centimetres from his boundary, as he was entitled to that extra land. It might be true, and it wouldn’t make any difference where P. struck his pickets, but le Belhomme (his name!) couldn’t see that. Bernard shrugged, P. chatted some more amiably, and they complied.

We watch their inactivity from day to day, of Monsieur Cinquantes Centimètres and his wife. They now live there permanently, but no improvements are made to the cottage, in spite of all the great plans that have been divulged to P., who is much better at socialising than I am. They stay hidden in their house, and only come out to shop and to complain to the anyone who will hear it about the government, and all other ill-doers.

We had gotten used to the bickering between them, especially at nightfall, when it had been enforced by wine consumption. Her insistent nagging voice and then his: low and defensive; the slamming of their screen door, the shouting ringing up the hill: they had become familiar disturbances of a peaceful evening.

But now they are so quiet. They are there, but the door doesn't bang, and we don’t hear their voices wailing through the night. Are they sick? Have they become teetotallers? Or have they seen the light? P. saw them walking up the lane hand in hand. Have they fallen in love again? What has happened to them?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Summer Fruit Ice Cream

Puree about 200 grams of summer fruit (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, mirabelles? we're going to try later when they are ripe! etc.)
Add 1 to 2 tbs sugar
Lemon juice,
As much fromage blanc or other dairy as you think fit.
Mix all together and test for taste.
Pour into a turning ice machine;
25 to 45 minutes later you have divine ice cream!

You might try the more rustic method of a tray in the feezer that needs to be stirred every half hour with a fork. But as we have the machine I cannot tell you how it will turn out. You may have some ice cristals, but who cares? I'm sure it will still taste divine!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Market at St. Pierre sur Dives

Every Monday morning there is a huge market at St Pierre sur Dives in and around the medieval market hall. I bet that market has been there ever since time immemorial. The country folk visit it from far and wide, and it is absolutely worth it.
The variety of stalls is not enormous but the number is. For local products it is a Mekka: produce; plants; cheeses; honey; livestock like rabbits, chickens, geese, guinea fowl etc.; cider and calvados bien sûr! But other essentials are sold as well: bras, bags, shoes, hats, beds and matrasses, plastic tablecloths, baskets, sewing equipment.
Although there are tourists in the summer, mainly British, it is truly still a market for the locals and they are as much worth the visit as the products.
Plastic surgery has not reached these regions yet, and the ruddy faces, the warts, etc. have not been taken care of. People are what they are, and that is that.
What they are is as varied as anywhere else: the fishmonger with his enormous grey moustache and loud voice, the olive merchant whose piercing black eyes and smooth talk charms you into buying more than you had intended.
But the organic greengrocer tops it all. He chats amiably with you while you are selecting this and that, discussing the quality of the peas and football, and in the meantime he is doing his reckoning. At the end of the conversation your purchases are in your basket and he gives you the sum total of them.
This man is a walking calculator!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Pommes de Terre à la Matelote

This is a wonderful variation on the theme of the potato:

Slice washed (and peeled) potatoes in not too thin slices.
Mix with finely chopped shallots and lots of fresh parsley.
Into cookpot and cover with water, but they don't have to swim.
Cook on a rather high heat for about half an hour.
Take off the lid to reduce the "sauce".
Season with salt and pepper.

The next day turn the left-overs into a greased baking dish.
Mix in some crème fraîche.
Cover with bread crumbs and with butter dots.
Bake in 175 oven until golden.

This is even better!

Friday, July 08, 2011


They say writing is not a matter of inspiration but of hard work.

Of course I wouldn’t dare to disagree. And it is true: writing involves a lot of hours of serious labour, formulating, developing plot, finding consistency in the story line. So truly 90% of it makes it a desk job. However, all that effort cannot avoid moments of frustration, of being stuck. You can mull over your problems as much as you like, but the desk will not provide the answer.

Now that one of my novels is getting published I have rekindled revising an old one that was lying idly on a shelf. It wasn’t going very well. It didn’t sit right. I didn’t see the plot. What was the story I really wanted to tell? I fiddled around with it, I gave bits of it to read to my writers group, but the answer wouldn’t come.

Yesterday I got fed up with the tasks around the house: the planting and the weeding, even with reading the newspaper. So I took the dog and went for a spin “around the block”, which is a 45 minute walk up the hill, past the farm and down the undulating lane back to the house.

And then it came, the inspiration. I realised that the main character is really getting crazy, and I knew why. I began to see how it would work, how it would be the focus around which the story could develop.

I hopped home and told P. about it. That I would feel the incentive to write again, that I would know where to go from now on.

And that, that is inspiration indeed!

Thursday, July 07, 2011


When we arrived the house was hiding itself. Not just behind the shutters we had closed; it was surrounded by knee high grass and the walls were covered by vine shoots and weeds. We know it takes a while to unveil, so we started gradually.
We also want to plant new things. Therefore we went to St. Pierre on Monday to buy lettuce and tomato plants, petunias for the borders and flowers for the window boxes: impatiens for the North windows, and verbena for the south facing windows.
P. started mowing the grass and clearing part of the field for the new vegetable plot and I attacked the compost heap. After some digging I found the right stuff, and I removed plants that had decided that there was no better place to be than the pantry!
These plants turned out to be potato plants, probably sprouted from spuds that had been cleared away before our departure. Already a few new potatoes were forming, and I decided to give them a chance in P.'s newly created plot.
No idea how they will survive the transplant, but worth a try!

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

The Simplest Tomato Salad

Thinly slice juicy tomatoes;
Lay on a pretty plate;
Sprinkle with:
- sea salt cristals (essential to extract the juices),
- freshly ground pepper,
- what herbs you like: thyme, basil, rosemary, chives or thinly sliced shallots;
Drizzle olive oil over it;
Leave soaking for a bit.

Done in a jiffy and delicious!

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Dance on the Village Square

We went on a outing with the 2CV club and part of it was at a village festival which featured an afternoon ball. When we arrived the party was in full swing. I don't know if the inmates of the neighbouring asylum had been invited, or if these were just locals.
It was moving to see their enthousiasm. If only we city folks would deal with our lunatics that way!

Monday, July 04, 2011

Reading Mass

When P. met the mayor in town last Saturday, he invited us to attend mass at six o’clock that evening. We like to see how the community lives, so we went. Mass is read only once a year in our village church, a beautifully small and intimate building of the Romance period, bordering on Gothic, judging from the slightly pointed windows. We were greeted by the mayor at the gate, chatted a bit and went inside, where it was cool after the warm evening. We sat in one of the old pews, and were soon greeted by a lady, who said she recognised us from other events and who asked us if we would like to read the reading.

Read the reading? It seemed convenient for us, non-Catholics, to have a text to read along, but we didn’t want to inconvenience the lady. However, it seems she wanted to be inconvenienced, for soon she came with a friend and a slip of paper, and asked us to move more forward for us better to see. We obliged and there followed instructions about the text, but it seemed complicated, so I promised to follow the congregation, and we would be fine.

And so we were: fine. There was singing, and prayers and a few ladies read from a folder. We could follow everything nicely, and dutifully rose and sat down with everyone else. Then I discovered the priest started to read his part form the paper I had been given. O, excellent, we were there now. Then the priest stopped and one of the ladies nodded vehemently and insistently towards me. So that was the meaning of reading the reading: reading aloud!

I stifled a giggle and began, faltering, but doing the best I could. I pride myself in having a good reading voice, so I should be alright. Soon it was over, and the priest did his bit again.

But no, I was to read all four parts that were on the paper, so I braced myself and did. I can’t remember what I read, but it didn’t matter. I suppose we should be honoured that we were asked. And everyone else seemed to think it was perfectly normal!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Bell Pepper Tart

On our way in the train I have been planning dinner. It should be simple and tasteful, a true feast after the journey:

Thinly slice 2 red onions and 3 differently couloured bell peppers. Go into the garden and cut fresh thyme, just the tips to encourage further growth. Roll out ready-made puff pastry, either on a baking sheet or in a mold. Rub with a little olive oil and prick with a fork. Turn the vegetables -- well mixed with the thyme-- onto the pastry. Sprinkle with sea salt, olive oil and freshly grated black pepper.
Bake in the oven at 200 degrees. I stirred the peppers with a fork halfway through to avoid too much blakening. It will occur, but that improves the taste. It's ready when the pastry looks crisp and brown and the peppers limp and caramalised.

Serve with a green salad. Yummie!