Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Shuffling into Summer...

My sabots are shuffling, down the garden path, to the compost piles, around the hose and watering cans, by the grass strimmer, towards Dirac the Young Cat, and anywhere that is within the environs of our potager. A row of lettuce sheltered from the sun under some old sheeting is getting close to harvesting. Homegrown lettuce is fantastic, though somewhat challenging to grow in hot climates.

Downright perky, I say! (that's garlic in the foreground)

Onions probably have another six weeks till harvest. How will I know exactly when? Their toppling over at a point just above the soil is the indicator for pulling those delicious bulbs from the ground.

This season I grew the annual herbs in nice roomy pots instead of in the ground. Keeping them on an elevated surface, like the sous sol's window sills or a table, makes their care much easier.

Marjoram, chives, dill, basil, and flat-leaf parsley

Last season the blueberries which are grown in a large container so they can get the acidic soil they require were really tiny. This time, as the bush was flowering, I fertilised it. Happy to say, the berries are pleasingly plump.

When the going gets tough and I never want to see a garden spade ever again, my nose comes to the rescue, sniffing the heady fragrance wafting from the honeysuckle...

I let it ramble over hedges and piles of twigs/branches

...or from the cottage pinks...

...or from the lavender until I feel invigorated enough to pick up that dastardly spade yet once again.

Those are peonies in the background

Most of the roses are finished their first flush of blooming, but there are still some knockouts.

A deep coral beauty

Dirac the Young Cat after being introduced to the garden last week is learning the ways of the great outdoors: jumping the fence between chez nous and our neighbour's property, sniffing out other cats before they find him, marking out safety spots if they do find him first, easing himself into any hole I may be digging, and finding shady places.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Dirac the Young Cat's First Garden Outing!

Today is the day that Dirac the Young Cat got to know the garden. He was cautious and excited at the same time.

He greeted the weigela

He sniffed the lavender

He sought shade under the peonies

He chomped on plants (see the little snail on the blade of grass in front of his right ear?)

He spied an insect buzzing around the sage

Being with him was a nice break from my frantic sowing and transplanting veggies into their beds.  There's about a week left for all that needs to be in the ground to get into the ground. Gazing at flowers also soothes me. Floribunda roses, that is, roses which grow in clusters, are flourishing.

Blue hardy geraniums are just beginning to bloom.

À la prochaine!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Spring, Sprang, Sprung

In the southwest of France, our spring is morphing into summer. The gladiolus* say so.

Rosemary, sage & fennel herb at left, sweet violet/iris foliage, roses & gladiolus on right

The miniature variety requires no staking, is winter hardy, and spreads by seed throughout the garden. Wherever the volunteers land, I let them be, whether in the lavender hedge, rose bed, or among the irises.

Lettuce is a challenge to grow chez nous because of the heat, so this season, successive plantings are being shaded with a strip of old cotton sheeting clothespinned to curved supports found in the dilapidated shed when we moved in about five years ago.

Onions on the left and a tomato bed in the background

The other day I noted the melon, winter squash, cucumber, and basil transplants patiently waiting to be put in their beds were being devoured by snails. The lone perpetrator was eventually found hiding between two pots. Shortly after, the population of our garden's wild area increased by one.

The ravenous snail that ate two baby basil plants has new digs among the brambles

Though the peas weren't planted early enough and are succumbing to the heat, the ones planted in a pot just for harvesting pea shoots are supplying enough for some tasty meals. For one quick meal, washed and chopped shoots are sauteed in butter until soft which takes a few minutes. Then eggs are added and scrambled correctly.

Pea shoots & scrambled eggs on sourdough rye bread

For another easy meal, throw in some sliced shoots during the last couple of minutes when boiling pasta. Drain. Saute minced garlic in olive oil, add several spoonfuls of reserved water from cooking the pasta, and stir the shoots and pasta in this sauce until well coated and most of the liquid is gone, about a minute or so. Sprinkle with fleur de sel, freshly ground black pepper, and grated Parmesan.

The roses continue to delight. Ferdinand Pichard, a fragrant bourbon rose, unfolds bi-coloured blossoms.

Yellow roses are invigorating sunshine and billowing clouds all in one.

Golden Showers variety

David Austin's Falstaff climber flaunts quartered blooms, damask-like fragrance, and stunning velvety, magenta petals.

Meanwhile in the house, Dirac the Young Cat is turning out to be a self-bathing feline.

We were mistaken to think he does not like boxes. They just have to be small boxes, the tinier, the better.

À la prochaine!

*Count me in the group that uses the same spelling for both the singular and plural, that is, gladiolus.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Better Late Spring Than Never...

Thankfully it is still spring chez nous so all those tomato, pepper, squash, cucumber, and melon transplants started from seed about six weeks ago and waiting to be put into proper soil still have a chance to become delicious, nutrition-packed edibles. Sustained bouts of heavy rain which are blessing roses and rhubarb with luxuriant growth are making the soil sodden and therefore challenging to work.

Quartered, salmon-pink rose with an astounding fragrance

Rain has been abundant in the last several years, so much more than the usual that the once languishing ivy is sprightly growing up the pillars of our patio pergola.

I am looking forward to the day when the entire pergola is covered in green lushness.

Nothing glows like the papery, scarlet petals of poppies.

While the herb fennel (which is a different plant from bulb fennel) waves its feathery fronds, a sage bush presents its stalwart flower spikes.

The sage will be clipped back after flowering to keep it bushy

Pea shoots, much appreciated in Asian cuisine, are one of the earliest edible greens. In addition to planting peas in their own bed, I plunk down some in a large pot reserved just for harvesting pea shoots. Their delicate flavour and texture makes them a fantastic addition to various recipes (see several in the related links at the end of this post).

The onions planted at the end of March are now sturdy young plants.

Side-dressed with a high nitrogen fertiliser and mulched with dried grass clippings

Dirac the Young Cat loves water as much as the roses and ivy do. His aquatic exploits starts with his batting a thin stream from a faucet. It advances to his biting the water which is so hilarious that our raucous laughter makes him take a pause... he can dry his wet paw by licking it!

Eventually his efforts fatigue him and he sits nearby glaring at the faucet.

À la prochaine!


Pappardelle, Pea Shoots & Creamy Tuna Sauce

Pea Shoots & Sausage Couscous
Linguine with Pea Shoots, Capers, Parsley, Garlic, and Parmesan

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Socca is a creamy, crusty chickpea flour flatbread/pancake found in the south of France. When we were in Nice, I got to eat a gorgeous slab served from a huge pan that had done the right amount of time in a mammoth, wood-burning oven.

Fresh thyme from our potager!

To duplicate that delicious charring in my ordinary home oven, I placed a pizza pan under the oven grill. And to match that memorable creaminess, the batter was covered and left out overnight. One test batch without fermentation had less flavour and a grainier texture.

Fleur de sel, freshly ground black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil increases the lusciousness

makes a 12 inch/30 cm round

  • Chickpea flour, 3.4 dry oz/95 grams
  • Water, 6.8 fluid oz/200 ml
  • Salt, 1/2 tsp
  • Thyme, dried, 1/4 tsp
  • Olive oil, 1 T for the batter, another one to oil the pan
  • Garnish: fresh thyme, fleur de sel, freshly ground black pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil

The night before, mix the first five ingredients, cover, and let stand at room temperature.

The next day, oil a pizza pan and put under the oven grill. Heat at the highest setting for about ten minutes or until the oil just starts to smoke. Carefully remove and pour the batter until the bottom of the pan is covered.

Grill for about five minutes at a distance from the element and then place it closer for a minute or so till a nice blistering occurs.

Garnish and slice into portions. Then proceed to stuff yourself with this lovely, lovely, lovely stuff!

À la prochaine!


Thyme panisse (chickpea fries) with green peppercorn yogurt sauce
Sweet red pepper & green bean pakora (chickpea fritters)

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Rhubarb Fool

One of the simplest ways to serve any fruit puree is to fold whipped cream into it which has to be the least foolhardy thing one could do. So why is this delicious dessert called a fool? Blame the French word, fouler, which means to mash though this recipe needs no mashing as a brief simmering gets the fruit into a similar state.

The rosebuds are the first for the season!

makes about 1 quart/liter of rhubarb puree
  • Rhubarb, cut into chunks, 6 cups (48 fluid oz)/1420 ml (1.4 L), about 12 stalks
  • Sugar, white, 4 fluid oz/120 ml
  • Water, 4 fluid oz/120 ml
  • Whipped cream, 5-6 heaping T for each serving
  • Cinnamon, ground, for garnishing
  • Optional: a dash of raspberry or grenadine syrup to add some colour, about 1 fluid oz/30 ml
Put the rhubarb, sugar, water and if using, raspberry/grenadine syrup into a saucepan. Simmer while covered for five minutes. Stir a few times. Then uncover and cook, while stirring here and there, for another five minutes. Let cool and store in the fridge or freeze.

From our potager!

For each serving, I used equal amounts of puree and cream. You may want a different proportion of sweet to tart. Spoon the rhubarb first into the dish, then plop the whipped cream on top. Gently fold-in by slipping a spoon under an edge and upturning the rhubarb onto the cream. Turn the bowl as you lightly blend.

Though I am a diehard fan of rhubarb's flavour, I find its tendency to become olive-green once cooked a bit off-putting. A splash of raspberry syrup changed that rather drab colour to one closer to sparkling champagne.

When most of the rhubarb is thinned out into ribbons, dust on the cinnamon.

The Calm One was gallant enough to hoist his serving so I could photograph its marbled effect.

A clear, stemmed glass really shows off this dessert

Outside, the garden has the blues. Bluebells that is...

and irises...

...not to mention lilacs! Setting a vase full of water underneath the lilac bushes in the early morning is one of my great garden joys. I get to take my time as I choose blooms as each will immediately go into the vase. To assist the lilacs to last for several days, use a mallet to smash several inches at the bottom of their stems.

Violet cotton candy!

The second mowing of the season has been done but that doesn't keep the English daisies away for long which is fine by me as they are so dainty and pretty.

All those white dots are daisies!

When selecting irises to cut, choose the ones with many buds.

À la prochaine!