Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Cor, Petrichor!

Starting with a few drops here and there which were ignored as I continued weeding onions, the rain then quickened its pace instigating my sprinting pell-mell towards the sheltering sous-sol just in time before the crashing downpour came. 

The green of the garden became dark and blurred

Whoosh! Torrents ran off the patio. Just ten minutes later when all was quiet, petrichor perfumed the air with its unmistakable clean, bracing scent which went to the very core of me, simultaneously soothing and invigorating. What makes this captivating fragrance? Plants partially contribute to its creation. They release germination-stimulating oils in response to generous moisture so as not to cast their seeds on inhospitable ground.

Tomatoes and late-season potatoes loved their shower

Verdant contentment abounded.

Bright green & sharp outlines once again plus overflowing birdbaths

Grazing my fingertips over wet foliage is one of the many pleasures of having a garden.

Ivy-covered wall

Sensory experience need not stop at auditory, olfactory, visual, tactile: yes, that freshly rain-washed, ripe blueberry found its way to my mouth. All hail and praise the gustatory! And also give praise that there was no hail.

Almost daily rain for the last week inspires baking.

Top crust chicken potpie: peas, carrots & chicken in nutmeg-flavoured cream sauce

Recently harvested parsley, a bit of dill, and raspberries came in handy for a soup and dessert . . .

Once minced with the ever-so-nifty herbs scissor, the green leaves went into . . .

Creamy potato, onion, and saucisses de Strasbourg soup (some photos are corrupted but text remains correct in this old post).

The lush berries got topped with vanilla ice cream.

À la prochaine!


The meaning of the British exclamation of cor

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Abundant Early-Summer Rains & Snails...and the comfort of warm food & feline company

Gardeners are known to complain about both the abundance and lack of rain in a manner matching the staccato rhythm of a cloudburst richochetting off a tin roof. We spade-wielders come from a long tradition of supplication including dancing wildly about in the hope of divine intervention. And when we do get a stormy series of deluges, we suddenly realise how profoundly wet, rain is. If there's a Drizzle Demiurge, I will gladly offer a percentage of my harvest to itperhaps some huge gooseberries not only so engorged with water that they are double their usual size but also are fungus-free for the first time in the six and half years we have been chez nous.

Copious watering paradoxically prevents fungal development on gooseberries

Gooseberry roots may delight in drenched soil, but said soil does not delight in being spaded as such action compacts particles into a oxygen-deprived environment for seeds and transplants. Inclement weather is forecast all the way up to Sunday which delays the planting of the last few veggie beds. So whenever the rain lets up, whether several minutes or longer . . .

. . . I am out doing what I can do like weeding, deadheading, and trimming. The patches of ivy we inherited with this place languished as the weather at first was fairly dry for many months. Then they flourished as precipitation increased the last couple of years. So much so, that a rusty fence and a pergola with peeling paint are on their way of being cloaked with luxuriant foliage.

Ivy needs two haircuts yearly (spring & fall) to look thick and healthy

A neighbour hunted for snails in our garden one dusky evening following some rainfall. She found over a hundred! They are destined for the cook pot. Moi? I'll remain content at present with just photographing snogging snails. Having eaten some (not the snogging variety!) at a restaurant, I agree with my sister's description of their taste and texture resembling that of chicken hearts. Buying already cooked snails and clean shells makes preparation fairly easy, but doing it from scratch involves a lot of work.* However, escargot is a fabulously delicious and thrifty component of French culinary tradition. Plus when they are eaten, they can't eat leafy greens in the veggie patch!

Windy, wet weather calls for comforting food. We have recently switched to buying free-range chickens which are sold in France in regular supermarkets under the Label Rouge (red label). Their depth of flavour and dense, but tender, flesh makes us accept that we previously were eating a pale imitation. And what stock it makes! A Haitian friend said decades ago regarding her eating experience after first moving to New York City: Nothing tastes good here. Tomatoes don't taste like tomatoes. Chicken doesn't taste like chicken. I doubt she would say that about this chicken and pasta soup with an Asian flair: Put some homemade chicken broth (recipe here, though photos are corrupted in this old post, text is correct!) into a pot, add minced garlic, ginger, and red pepper flakes. Stir in a fistful or two of broken tagliatelle. While pasta is cooking, crack an egg into a small cup and carefully slide its contents into simmering water in a shallow pan. After a minute or two, turn off the heat and let sit until the soup is ready which will give the yolk a jellied consistency. Trim any raggedly edges right in the pan. Salt the soup to taste, pour into a bowl, and place egg on top.

Spicy beef and chicken enchiladas (recipe here) are wonderful any day but especially when it's gloomy and cool. We made some changes/improvements which include increasing the amount from eight to sixteen and only baking the ones destined for immediate consumption. The others are frozen (without the cheese topping) in their rolled-up, sauced, but unbaked state. When those are ready for the oven (partially thawed is best), cheese is then sprinkled. Dousing with less sauce and not crowding them when being baked results in a firmer enchilada with some crisp edges, but still a tender one. Our favourite toppings are mashed avocados and crème fraîche. Since we have enjoyed a Cahors wine with enchiladas in the past, I wanted to try another red from our cellier, a Côtes du Rhône. But, I forgot to take the bottle out in time to bring it to room temperature! Happily, there are plenty in the freezer with which to do this pairing fairly soon.

Looks like a vanilla/pistachio ice cream banana split with raspberry sauce!

The saucers under potted plants can get completely filled with rainwater causing some roots to become waterlogged, so I tip them over, causing a flow which captivates Dirac the Cat.

When the most beautiful cat in the world (OK, OK, there may be a few just as beautiful) decides that the tide is coming in too fast, he jumps up on the potting room's windowsill to keep his paws dry.

Can this pillow be upgraded to a softer one?

When rested, he enters the room . . .

. . . for a play session.

À la prochaine!

*Much interesting information at this link for snail preparation such as:  DO NOT cook a dead snail. And never give a snail the benefit of the doubt. If you think a snail might be dead, poke it with a sharp object and if it does not react, do not cook it and Wash the unshelled snails at least 3 times in vinegar and water (one cup of vinegar to two gallons of water) to eliminate remaining mucus.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Walk on the Wild Side . . . and various harvests

There's an area sized about forty-feet-wide and fifteen-feet-deep in the back of the garden that has been allowed to go wild for several reasons: food and perch for birds; sanctuary for hedgehogs, insects, and lizards; cover for an old cherry tree stump and a shed.

A gutted tree of heaven

Eventually, a path will go behind the brambles, in front of the large and completely hidden shed. This overgrown space also has tons of ivy, some comfrey (an excellent compost accelerator), and two trees of heaven (or hell would be more descriptive). They can grow up to ninety feet tall and spread by seeding and through rooting. Not to mention they smell of rotten cashews. Having a woodsy path is wonderful on its own, but cutting a swath around the brambles allows my gutting these trees to leafless stumps from time to time with the hope their roots eventually will die.

Raspberry & rhubarb fronting Brambleville

Directly across the central garden path there is a working area consisting of slow & fast compost piles and a tangle of honeysuckle.

That's a fig tree in the upper left corner

Dirac the Cat (no longer Dirac the Kitten or Dirac the Young Cat) who is just about two years old loves to stalk this area and we love that he is now on tick in addition to flea medicine.

The fragrant honeysuckle graciously covers a pile of pruned branches 

He enjoys all kinds of baths, dirt, gravel, and grass, just don't mention water.

The first crop of raspberries are developing. The fruits are on trimmed canes that bore berries last season. A second flush will happen in late-summer via fresh growth.

Three and a half veggie beds remain to be planted within the next two weeks to accommodate shelling beans, green beans, parsnips, cavolo nero (black kale), arugula, beets, and carrots.

Onions, shallots, garlic, tomatoes, late & early-season potatoes, sweet red peppers

Most of the pea pods have been picked. This is the month when the inclusion of our own produce in meals starts increasing. And it is the time we impatiently look forward to during late-winter/early spring which is usually when our stores have run out.

The early-season potatoes are just coming in, not enough on their own for potatoes dauphinoise, so they were added to our supermarket cache.

Engorged with cream and flavoured with garlic, thyme, parsley & bay leaf

Our own peas were added to store-bought carrots. We had them and the gratin with pot roast of lamb.

Garden-fresh peas are essentially green candy

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Petticoat Puffs, Lavender Bundles, Tomato Structures & the First Strawberries of the Season

Étoile de Hollande, a robust, full-fragrance climbing rose, is still putting out tier upon tier of ruffled petals or to which I fondly refer as petticoat puffs.

No cancan* dancer's skirt could match this!

The spare secateurs are kept nearby the front door so my going out on the entrance balcony to snip off an enormous bloom becomes a cinch. Keeping one in a small vase near the computer allows for an instant break: all I have to do is bury my nose into its plush centre and take a few deep breaths in order to be refreshed or as the French say reprendre mes esprits (to take back my enthusiasm).

The colour in this photo shows much better how dark crimson this rose really is

The English lavender which along with some French lavender form hedges flanking the entrance path in the front garden is budding as it is the earlier bloomer of the two. For various uses, from culinary to cosmetic, lavender buds, not the flowers, are the best.

Beautiful blue-violet buds!

Leaving most of the budded stems so they can flower which will scent the air straight out to the street regaling passersby, I harvested just a few bundles of lavender, then corded and hung them in a sheltered place.

Upside-down bouquet swaying in the wind

For many a year, The Calm One has been musing about how to keep the individual, cork-screw tomato supports, tuteurs, from bending every which way with the weight of their luscious burden.

These plants as they grow will be twirled upwards around the tuteurs

Such long rumination has given forth to this: twelve tuteurs, each tucked into a hole drilled just for them within a framework of rigid plastic tubing with corners made and a crosspiece added via L or T-shaped connectors glued to the tubing. Stored as is, it will provide a template when staking in the future. To increase its stability six cords were attached to the top of the frame at various strategic points and staked into the ground. A starling resting for several minutes on it was taken as an indication that The Structure which is our pet name for it will hold its own. And it has so far including through a patch of stormy weather. Perhaps this will be the season when skipping down the path flanking the tomato beds, I won't be skewered by a tuteur.

The learning curve for growing strawberries has been sharp; in fact I can't think of one wrong thing I didn't do including growing too many. Too many strawberries, you say? Yes, too many to care for properly. Having enough room is necessary not only to afford rotation to soil that has not seen a strawberry in a while in order to avoid pesky disease but also to propagate those countless, ever-eager strawberry runners, that is, the baby plants put out by the original whose productive lifespan is about three years. So I have started afresh with just twelve plant-nursery beauties which have been carefully mulched with flattened egg cartons to keep the berries from rotting on damp soil.

Lookin' good

Just a few handfuls of berries this season, but are they wonderful, especially the Gariguette variety with its sublime flavour and convenient 'outie' belly button which can be cleanly sliced off.

Strawberry, the first of the pea pods, and dill, all from our potager

The older and larger of our two potted blueberries are developing many bunches of numerous berries.

Packaged, acid potting mix gives them the right substrate they need as our garden soil is neutral

One of my favourite spots is the northeast corner located in the front garden. Though small, it is cozy enough with two trees, bushes, aucuba, ivy, and deep shade to make me think I am in a forest.

Tall rose of sharon bushes in foreground; a purple maple & box elder whose foliage oddly is partially variegated

À la prochaine!

*When a child, I intuitively picked-up that many thought the cancan was scandalous. I concluded on my own as no one gave me a reason why that since the word can was involved somehow it was the revealing of buttocks that was considered unacceptable. I have  now discovered one of the real reasons when researching this post: the pantalettes which women wore at this time, that is, crotchless (for hygiene purposes) leggings. Hence the high kicks associated with the can-can (corruption of coin-coin=corner-corner, probably a reference to a French square dance, quadrille which inspired the cancan) revealed much more than just the energetic skills of the dancer.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Our Potager at the End of a Very Busy May

As a grower of fresh produce, I never know if weather conditions will allow getting into the ground soon enough what I planned to do way back in the quiet of winter.

Pods for sure, but half of the patch is still at the flowering stage

Peas and new potatoes need to be planted early in the season which would be around late February/early March in southwest France. Their maturity takes about three months from sowing and requires cool temperatures, especially les petit pois. This season they were introduced into their soil home in April which means end-of-June harvesting. Hopefully there won't be a canicule (heat-wave) occurring before then!

Flowers usually signal potato harvesting is close; no blooms yet for this Artemis variety

The tomato seedlings were developed enough for planting in mid-April but various cold snaps prevented that from happening. Instead of being too frustrated, I took comfort from the French version of the European traditional rule-of-thumb, that is, les saintes de glace, which govern when outdoor spring planting is safe from cold temperatures. There is an ice saint for each of three days in mid-May, but the really big shot is St. Urbain (link in French) who is the final arbiter. Since his day falls on May 25, I tell myself that it is perfectly OK that the tomatoes went in just today.

The bed was staked shortly after

Shallots were planted for the first time. What an engaging grouping of perky green tufts!

These delicious & versatile aromatics are fantastic culinary additions

Since annual vegetables can be so challenging in terms of planting deadlines, perennial edibles are a welcome relief.

Blackberries are beginning to fruit

This winter our small peach tree (pruned to keep it manageable) was sprayed* for the first time with Bordeaux mixture to combat a very persistent case of leaf curl (caused by the fungus Taphrina deformans). Then after leafing out, it was sprayed with a different product to vanquish the ever ingenious blackfly (the sometimes winged black aphid). Ants love their sticky excretions so much that they protect the aphids from predators.

Not many peaches, but they are all clean of insect goo

In the flower garden, peonies are shaking out their ruffled, deep-pink petals.

Lavender in the background

The David Austin climbing rose, Falstaff, is showing off its deeply fragrant, quartered, crimson-touched-with-purple blooms in cascades.

Mixing with the scent of the bi-coloured Bourbon rose, Ferdinand Pichard, is the perfume of entwining honeysuckle.

Taking a break from tomato planting could not be better spent than being ensconced under the pergola flanked by these flowers which regale both the eyes and the nose. 

À la prochaine!

*Spraying is done on windless, dry days via an applicator filled with the right dilution of the appropriate product.