May Flowers in the Loire

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

I have never had any doubts about moving to Blois despite the dreary winter but spring in our garden and the surrounding villages and countryside is just so wonderful that I don’t think I could ever spend it anywhere else! Let me share some of our May flowers with you starting with the traditional lily-of-the-valley that Jean Michel picked for me in the garden.

muguet

Next come the Ronsard roses, viburnum and irises outside our front gate.

ronsard_irisesFollowed by the first rose to bloom – the Peace Rose. It has no scent but I love the colours and the story behind it. Only one flower seems to bloom at a time.

peace_roseThe climbing roses on the half-timbered tower at the corner of our house flowered next. They don’t have any scent either but are very romantic.

tower_roses

I love the weigela for its abundance. It grows at one end of our vegetable garden and is a little bit hidden away but will be very visible from our future kitchen side window.

wegelia

And just look at the next one – it’s wattle, isn’t? I brought back seeds one time but had no success. Then I discovered we already had one in our little wood!

wattle

I took this photo on a rainy day. You can see the clematis on the wall which we planted two years ago and are very proud of. However, there is an armandii clematis which has been less successful. I accidentally broke the flowering end and it’s been sulking ever since.

front_view

These are the peonies in the little house next door. I’m going to try dividing the tubers in autumn.

peonies

The roses below are my favourites and bloom right up until December but May/June is the best period.

front_steps

And below is the view out of my office room this morning – it corresponds to the window on the left in the photo above.

window_box

 

 

 

Posted in Blois, Closerie Falaiseau, Flowers & gardens | Tagged | 5 Comments

Why I love the market even when it’s cold or rainy #2

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

We are halfway through the Saturday market (you can read #1 here) and having our coffee, waiting to hear about the Chambord second-hand and antique fair on May 1st from a lady who was an exhibitor.

Jean Michel and the Chambord vendor

Jean Michel and the Chambord vendor

“I slept the night in my car”, she explains. “It was very cold – it rained all night. The first buyers turned up at 4.30 am. I wasn’t even up ! (Who’s to blame her ?). During the day, it was so wet, I changed three times”, she adds. “I don’t understand why anyone would come on such an awful day. The ground was completely soaked.” When the friend on her left asks how much  money she made, she replies “About 150 euro. I usually make 800 to 1000 euro at Chambord.”

The brocante in Chambord two years ago on a perfect day

The brocante in Chambord two years ago on a perfect day

We were lucky when we went three years ago at the suggestion of Mr and Mrs Previous Owner. It was a beautiful sunny day and the place was absolutely crowded.

We’ve finished our coffee and the story’s over so we move on, after being invited to attend two forthcoming brocantes, one combined with the local horticulture school’s annual exhibition. We’ll definitely be going to that one ! Let’s hope the weather is better …

The Turkish fruit and vegetable stall

The Turkish fruit and vegetable stall

Our next stop is a Turkish couple who sell good quality fruit and vegetables. Initially we didn’t get much of a smile from Madame but now that we have become regulars, she has opened up. Her husband loves a good joke and sometimes joins us for coffee. They own a grocery store in Vendôme.

Our cheese monger

Our cheese monger

Next comes the cheese monger. We buy a selection of cheeses about every three weeks and have a cheese meal once a week.  We’d much rather do it that way than just have a little bit at a time. The French custom of having cheese at every meal is gradually dying out because of the high calorie content and lack of physical activity. We have a large bowl of lettuce and a piece of fruit to follow.

The honey vendor just opposite has a wide selection of local honey.

The honey vendor having a conversation with the clothes seller next door

The honey vendor having a conversation with the clothes seller next door

The fishmonger is next in line and there is often a queue. We buy fresh mackerel whenever we can (an oily fish in Europe unlike the Australian fish of the same name) and cook them whole. I usually buy several pieces of wild salmon at a time and freeze them. There are three fishmongers at the market but we’re not really satisfied with any of them, unlike the market we went to in Paris which had a wide variety of freshly caught fish at reasonable prices.

The kitchen stall. Imagine packing and unpacking it all every time!

The kitchen stall. Imagine packing and unpacking it all every time!

The kitchen stall a little further along is where we buy our kitchen knives and vegetable peelers which disappear mysteriously from time to time. Jean Michel is convinced that when he next adds the compost to the vegetable garden, it’s going to be full of knives.  We can also have our knives and scissors sharpened although a knife grinder turned up at the market recently with a very neat outfit indeed.

The knife grinder

The knife grinder

Depending on the season, we might then find a stall just selling asparagus, artichokes or strawberries all of which are local specialities.

Specialised asparagus sellers appear in season

Specialised asparagus sellers appear in season

We never miss having a chat with Damien, our local biscuit maker. He is quite passionate about his trade and is always trying out new recipes. He seems to know half the people in Blois as well and entertains us with the local gossip.

Damien and his Les Grouets biscuits

Damien and his Les Grouets biscuits

The last on the list is a man who sells fruit and vegetables grown by local producers. I sometimes go by his stall at the beginning of the market to see what he’s selling so that I don’t double up at the other stalls.

So those are are regular stalls, but there are plenty of others who are either permanent or come and go according to the  season. And you never know what else might be going on as well. Today, for instance, there were folk dancers teaching the locals! Would you have joined in?

Posted in Blois, Food | Tagged | 4 Comments

Why I love the market even when it’s cold or rainy #1

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

We go to the fresh produce market in Blois every Saturday in Place Louis XII no matter what the weather. You never know what you’ll find! We arrive any time between 10 am and 11 am and park in the underground parking lot nearby.

A brass band in winter

A brass band in winter

Over the last 3 years and particularly since we moved here permanently six months ago, we have developed a set routine to include our favourite vendors.

oysters

In winter, we start with the oyster vendor and buy two dozen spéciales as these are our favourites. At 7.20 euro a dozen, they are considerably cheaper than the ones we used to buy in the 1st arrondissement in Paris. Our vendor and her husband live and raise their oysters in Charentes and come to Blois three days a week. Between them, they cover the Amboise market on Friday and Sunday mornings, two markets in Blois on Saturday morning and various selling points on Friday and Saturday afternoon, from the beginning of September to the end of April.

The saucissons vendor on the market with local varieties such as deer and wild boar.

The saucissons vendor on the market with local varieties such as deer and wild boar.

Next stop is the saucisson seller with local varieties such as deer and wild boar. Saucisson in French corresponds to dry sausage of the salami type as opposed to saucisse of the frankfurter type. Saucisson is one of our favourite appetizers.

One day there was even a donkey to attract donations for children with cancer

One day there was even a donkey to attract donations for children with cancer

The chicken and rabbit vendor  comes next. Rabbit is one of Jean Michel’s specialities that we buy from time to time and have with chasselas grapes or prunes depending the season.

The mushroom vendor who sells button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and Japanese shitake

The mushroom vendor who sells button mushrooms, oyster mushrooms and Japanese shitake

After that, we have the mushroom man. He works with a partner who grows button mushrooms (called Parisian in French) , shitake and oyster mushrooms. He loves joking and talking to each customer. He always wants to know what you are going to do with the mushrooms and selects them accordingly – very firm to be eaten uncooked, large if they are to be sliced, tiny to accompany a roast.

The egg lady who is part of the fruit & vegetable stall

The egg lady who is part of the fruit & vegetable stall

The next vendor is the organic baker. The vendors (a young man or a young woman) are not very friendly, but Jean Michel prefers their baguette with his oysters – I prefer the multi-grain bread I make myself.

one of the philosophical signs on the fruit & vegetable stall

One of the philosophical signs on the fruit & vegetable stall

A large self-serve fruit and vegetable stall comes next. The owner of the stall is a farmer himself and all the produce he sells is fresh and local. In between the cardboard boxes are little signs with philosophical quotes such as “Humility is like a pair of scales. The more you make it go down on one side, the higher it goes on the other”. The lady behind the scales writes everything down on a piece of xcrap paper and then adds it up. They also sell free-range eggs so we take along our empty cartons.

Three generations of Italians run the stall

Three generations of Italians run the stall

Next on the list is the Italian stall. It’s very popular so we always buy four types of ravioli and some tagliatelle and freeze them so we won’t have to queue as often. You can plunge the pasta directly into boiling water still frozen and cook it like fresh pasta. The stall is run by three generations and their produce comes directly from Italy.

When it's no longer scallop season, they sell fresh fish, shells and prawns

When it’s no longer scallop season, they sell fresh fish, shells and prawns

In winter, we often buy scallops (coquille Saint Jacques in French) from a stall run by two young men. Their hands must be frozen by the end of the morning, after opening literally hundreds of scallops. For the last two or three weeks, a young woman has been present, cooking scallop kebabs on a gas-fired griddle plate. She has a little sample plate cut into small pieces with a couple of whole scallops. Jean Michel thinks they are for sampling too ! I explain to the woman but she just laughs and says “don’t worry”.

The red & black coffee stall

The red & black coffee stall

Now comes the best bit. The coffee stand. Not only can you buy coffee grains, you can also buy fresh espresso, tea and hot chocolate. We order our two cups of black espresso and hand over our empty packets to be refilled with colombie and déca (decaffeinated coffee). There’s the usual banter between the lady who serves the coffee and the man who owns the stall. He pitches in when it get busy but spends the rest of the time talking to all his mates who stop by.

The make-shift coffee tables behind the stall, also red and white.

The make-shift coffee tables behind the stall, also covered with red and white table cloths.

We take our coffee to the trestle tables and benches behind the stall. It’s just started to rain so we appreciate the awning. By now the tables have filled up as it’s the weekly meeting place for a group called “On Va Sortir” (let’s go out) but there are still a couple of places left. We say hello to the others at our table and listen in on a conversation about the famous Chambord brocante held the day before during which it rained solidly.

Jean Michel and the Chambord vendor

Jean Michel and the Chambord vendor

They have a friend who had a stall. She suddenly arrives with her daughter and sits down in the space next to  Jean Michel. We were very keen to hear about her “wet” experience. Rendez-vous in my next post to hear her story!

Posted in Blois, Life in France, Mushrooms | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Favourite Spring Flowers

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

I have two half-written posts that I don’t seem to be able to find time to finish so I thought I’d share some of our spring photos with you in the meantime. Those you follow Loire Daily Photo will already have seen some of them.

Pansies last right through winter and are stunning at the moment

Pansies last right through winter and are stunning at the moment

Lily-of-the-valley, which has lots of little bells and smells devine

Lily-of-the-valley, which has lots of little bells and smells devine

This lilac is opposite our front gate. You can see yellow daisies on the left that our neighbour gave us. They multiply every year!

This lilac is opposite our front gate. You can see yellow daisies on the left that our neighbour gave us. They multiply every year! The yellow shrub is kerria japonica.

These are the flowers on the horse chestnut trees further along our street

These are the flowers on the horse chestnut trees further along our street

Viburnum flowers start out a pale green then suddenly become bright white.

Viburnum flowers start out a pale green then suddenly become bright white.

Our wisteria with diosma in front

Our wisteria with diosma in front

Lilac in a bouquet in the kitchen. This is the most common colour. It also comes in dark purple and white.

Lilac in a bouquet in the kitchen. This is the most common colour. It also comes in dark purple and white.

Posted in Flowers & gardens | Tagged , , , , , | 8 Comments

Cycling along the Loire from Jargeau to Germigny

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

We’ve talked it over and decided that, based on the experience of the practice window, the kitchen windows may take a lot longer than expected and we may well have to forego our summer cycling holiday this year. I was hoping to go to Romania but we would need at least a month to cross half of Europe by car so the plan is now to go for short trips closer to home instead whenever my workload permits. Otherwise Jean Michel is going to be stressed out of his mind trying to get everything finished.

Jean MIchel contributed to the garage sale by bringing a picnic lunch to share

Jean MIchel contributed to the garage sale by bringing a picnic lunch to share

The practice window is now in place. The laundry still isn’t finished – it’s missing the sink – but I have no urgent work waiting for me and the weather forecast is looking good. After participating in the local garage sale on Sunday which was held in the grounds of the old school, we pour ourselves a gin tonic (our holiday beverage) and debate on where to go. I’ve been wanting to go back to Gien for a while to complete our porcelain breakfast service, especially since I broke one of the two egg cups.

Gien at dusk taken in a moving car!

Gien at dusk taken in a moving car!

Gien is a two and a half  hour drive east from Blois along the Loire and is part of the Loire à Vélo and Eurovélo 6 cycle routes (the one that goes from Saint Nazaire on the eastern Atlantic seabord to the Black Sea). We find and book a B&B about 10 km out of Gien for the next evening – it seems to have plenty of positive comments on Trip Advisor.

The bike path from Jargeau with the gabarre flat-bottomed boats

The bike path from Jargeau with the gabarre flat-bottomed boats

By the time we get up and get ready – it’s amazing how much we always seem to need for even a short trip – it’s nearly midday. We take the motorway to Orléans then drive along the Loire until we get to Jargeau. We can’t find our Eurovelo 6 maps, which is annoying, but I’ve been checking out the route on my phone app. The 30 K return ride from Jargeau to Germigny via Châteauneuf-sur-Loire looks good according to the description.

Wide-sweeping view of the Loire

Wide-sweeping view of the Loire

The bike path  along the river to Châteauneuf takes us past the inevitable gabarre flat-bottomed boats in Jargeau before offering wide-sweeping views of the Loire from the levee.

Jean Michel halfway across the bridge at Châteauneuf

Jean Michel halfway across the bridge at Châteauneuf

At Châteauneuf, we cross the 276 metre long suspension bridge (initially built in 1838) which unfortunately doesn’t have a bike lane, but there isn’t much traffic so we are able to stop and take photos.

Houses with their unusual chimneys

Houses with their unusual chimneys

On the other side, we turn right and evenutally come to a cluster of quaint houses with very unusual brick chimneys.

One of the less ramshackle houses

One of the less ramshackle houses

Another village follows full of somewhat ramshackle dwellings most of which are very kitch but I am thwarted in my attempt to photograph the best examples. There seem to be people all over the place!

The beautiful mosaic work in the Carolingian oratory in Germigny

The beautiful mosaic work in the Carolingian oratory in Germigny

We finally arrive at Germigny which is rather dull after the other villages along the way. It is not until we go past it in the car later on that I discover that it has a Carolingian oratory. Jean Michel remembers it perfectly from a previous occasion. I am embarrassed to say that I only remember having a cold drink in the café opposite. Jean Michel makes his usual comment about how wonderful it is to take me anywhere. Since I don’t have any recollection of a lot of the places we go to, I derive new pleasure each time we visit again!  Now that I’m blogging I tell myself that at least I’ll have photos to remind me of where I’ve been.

View from the cafe at the end of the bridge in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire

View from the cafe at the end of the bridge in Châteauneuf-sur-Loire

On the way back to Jargeau, we stop at the café at the end of the bridge at Châteauneuf for a Coca Zero – it’s an intermittent fast day so we can’t indulge ourselves any further.

The resident peacock at our B&B

The resident peacock at our B&B

We reach our B&B at about 6.30 pm. The 18th century mansion, renovated and redecorated when the owners bought it twenty-five years ago, is set in a beautiful park. It even has a couple of peacocks. Unfortunately it’s a little early in the season for the male to be spreading his tail feathers. He seems to make a lot of noise though!

The view of the park from our bedroom

The view of the park from our bedroom

The room is spacious and full of light, its windows looking onto the park on one side and wisteria on the other – the perfect setting for our picnic dinner. Afterwards we walk around the park examining the different types of vegetation. Some of the trees must be centuries old. But we see how much upkeep is needed and are glad of our little wood which is so much easier to look after!

Posted in Cycling, Loire Valley | Tagged , , , , , | 10 Comments

Three Tonnes of Freestone

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

Now that the practice window is coming along nicely and we’ve bought the secondhand stone sills and bricks for the kitchen windows, the next step is to buy some freestone blocks for the window on the back façade so it will match the ones in front. For those who don’t know what freestone is (like me!), it’s a fine grain stone which can be cut easily in any direction, in particular a type of sandstone or limestone. In our area, they are made of limestone.

The front window with its freestone surround looking its best with the wisteria in bloom

The front window with its freestone surround looking its best with the wisteria in bloom

As usual, Jean Michel starts searching through leboncoin.com. “This looks good”, he says, one evening in front of the fire, “only 50 euro for a whole heap of stones, some of them very big – about 80 kilos”, he adds. I nearly have a fit. “What are we going to do with them all and how are we going to transport them?”” We’ll do a couple of trips with the trailer”, he replies. “Won’t they be too big to use?” “Je me débrouillerai“, he reassures me.

The practice window at the back of the house coming along nicely

The practice window at the back of the house coming along nicely

He phones and talks to a young woman who hardly seems the type to be selling 80 kilo stones. It takes us an hour to get there and we are about ten minutes early for our 7 pm appointment. It doesn’t look like a house owned by someone selling freestones either. Two young people in their early thirties soon pull up in a car. The young man gets out and opens the gate. The young woman drives in. She gets out and shakes our hands.

The house with the free stones

The house with the freestones

“I’ll go and let the hens out”, says Olivier. Christelle shows us the stones and Jean Michel drives the trailer in next to them. He then proceeds to put two planks at the back of the trailer to form a slide for the trolley he’s going to use. Olivier soon returns, having changed into yard clothes. He is tall and slim and I wonder if he is really going to be much help.

Jean Michel wheeling the stones on the trolley

Jean Michel wheeling the stones on the trolley

However, he turns out to be amazingly strong, which is a good thing because I seriously do not think I would have been much use! This is a much heavier operation than the bricks. It takes them both more than an hour to get 15 stones of various shapes and sizes into the trailer.

Olivier pulling up the trolley (thank goodness I didn't have to do that!)

Olivier pulling up the trolley (thank goodness I didn’t have to do that!)

In the meantime, I chat with Christelle about her house and garden. The land, which originally housed a large barn, belonged to her grandmother. After she and Olivier bought it, the barn was demolished (hence the stones) and they had a new house built because the barn would have cost far too much to renovate. Christelle’s parents live opposite. Her father used to be a farmer and still has a few hectares.

The bottom of Christelle and Olivier's garden

The bottom of Christelle and Olivier’s garden

Christelle and Oliver’s garden is very large with a lot of trees and even a little stream at the bottom. Next door, there is a pond. It looks very idyllic in the spring and they have large French windows at the back of the house to make the most of the view.

The trailer is now packed and ready to go. Christelle asks if we’d like to stay for a drink but we explain it is an intermittent fast day so all we can have is water. They ask where I come from and are thrilled to learn I’m Australian. They visited Christelle’s sister’s brother-in-law in Sydney last year! We make another appointment for a few days later and Christelle’s father, who has wandered over, offers to come with his tractor. Now why didn’t he come by earlier???

Tipping the stones from the trailer onto the ground at home

Tipping the stones from the trailer onto the ground at home

It is nearly 9.30 pm by the time we get home. By now we’re pretty hungry, especially Jean Michel. Next day, he up-ends the stones into the front yard – I had no idea our trailer was a tip truck – and uses the trolley to take them into the garden of our little house next door which is ready to receive them.

Jean Michel organises the stones into different types.

Jean Michel organises the stones into different types.

As soon as we arrive at Christelle and Oliver’s house to pick up the next cargo of stones, Christelle’s father promptly arrives with his tractor. This time it only takes a half an hour to get the next 16 stones into the trailer.  As a present, I have brought some cuttings from our garden: a little yew tree, a laurel and some winter jasmin. Christelle and Olivier are delighted.

Loading the stones into the trailer is so much easier with a tractor!

Loading the stones into the trailer is so much easier with a tractor!

It’s the third and last trip. Christelle’s father, who takes every opportunity he can to use his tractor according to Olivier, has already picked up two stones on the fork lift by the time Jean Michel gets the trailer in place. One of the stones is a sink. I hope we’ll be able to find some use for it.

The stone sink

The stone sink

Theyve got it down to a fine art by now so, once again, within a half an hour, we’re all set and ready to go, with another 18 stones in the trail. However, I’m hoping that they’ll ask us if we want an apéritif again. It’s not an intermittent fast day! Christelle pops the question and we accept without hesitation.

I would like to suggest that she invite her mother over too because I want to ask her more details about the way she keeps her geraniums in winter. Christelle telle me that she takes them out of the pots and hangs them upside down ! But I need more details. However, I think it might be a little out of place to do so.

Christelle's father and Olivier with the épine

Christelle’s father and Olivier with the épine

Olivier goes off and gets a bottle with EPINE written on it. We learn it is a homemade brew consisting of tender blackthorn shoots cut in the spring and steeped in brandy, red or rosé wine and sugar. I ask what the alcohol content is so I have an idea of what I’m drinking. Olivier does a rough calculation and comes up with about 20°. One glass will do me!

We sit round the table drinking the épine which is very tasty, and are joined by Pierre, who’s staying with them for a couple of days. Because they live close to the Saint-Laurent-sur-Nouan nuclear power plant, there is occasional demand for extra accommodation which they offer on airbnb.com. What a good idea!

Saint Laurent de Nouans nuclear power plant

Saint Laurent sur Nouans nuclear power plant

The conversation mostly revolves around farming (and Australia) as Jean Michel is interested in knowing what Christelle’s father used to do. He grew cereal crops and raised beef cattle. Unfortunately he didn’t have a son to take over after he retired and he misses the activity. What a pity he lives too far away or we could ask him to bring his tractor over when Jean Michel is putting the stones in place!

Sunset over Blois on the way home

Sunset over Blois on the way home

We leave reluctantly but it’s getting late. We have taken a liking to these two young people and their farmer father. We’ve only been gone ten minutes when Jean Michel’s mobile rings. It’s Christelle to tell us I’ve forgotten my jacket. So back we go. She comes out to give it to me. I’ll make sure I send her a photo when the window is finished so they can see their stones in their new home. We drive home into the sunset.

Posted in Closerie Falaiseau, Flowers & gardens, Loire Valley, Renovation | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Busy Back Soon

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

I am not sick. I have not given up my blog but like Owl in Winnie the Pooh, I am busy! After a sluggish start to the year workwise, I am suddenly inundated with translations. I can’t complain but it’s not easy to juggle with work, the beautiful weather, the garden and cycling.  I am (more or less) keeping up with my photographic blog, Loire Daily Photo. In the meantime, may I invite you to join me in the garden with a cold glass of jurançon in front of our wisteria which came into bloom in just two days!

jurancon_wisteria

 

 

Posted in Blois, Closerie Falaiseau, Flowers & gardens | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Easter Sunday in Les Grouets

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

We have just finished breakfast at a very late hour, mainly due to the switchover to daylight saving last Sunday, which is still playing havok with my already terrible sleeping habits, and have decided to go for a walk before lunch. It’s sunny but only 8°C and there is a northern wind which means it feels like it’s about 4°C.

Jennet in front of a half-timber house

Jennet in front of a modern half-timber house

We walk down our very long street towards Blois and turn left at the church, then up the hill and under the overpass, admiring all the flowering shrubs on the way.

You can only guess at the view from the front of this house

You can only guess at the view from the front of this house

We take the first street on the left and keep climbing. We are eventually walking parallel to our street, but about seventy metres above. Many of the houses have a spectacular view of the Loire but the noise of the riverside traffic is louder than it is at river level.

Our house is two houses to the left off the edge of the photo

Our house is two houses to the left off the edge of the photo

Eventually we find a track that leads us to the edge of the hillside overlooking the railway line. This is the closest we can get to our house which is two doors down from the last house on the left of the photo.

A very un-environmen-friendly cubby house

A very un-environmen-friendly cubby house

We go back to the main path which eventually leads us to a steep track down through the forest. We spy a little cubby house built many moons ago to judge by the materials used – and very un-environment-friendly! The forest floor is covered in little yellow and white flowers.

Flower-covered forest floor

Flower-covered forest floor

After lunch and a little siesta interrupted by the doorbell (by the time we emerge it’s too late, the person has already left), I go into the kitchen to start preparing lamb shank for the first time in my life. It’s Easter Sunday after all. With no children or grandchildren around, this is our only concession to Easter which our family has not celebrated since my sister died on Easter Saturday many long years ago. We’ve already eaten our April Fish Day chocolates.

April Fish Day chocolate

April Fish Day chocolate

I love lamb shank but you usually have to order it at the butcher’s and it takes a long time to cook. Yesterday at the supermarket, there were four shanks just crying out to be bought. I check out a few recipes on the web, many of which seem time-consuming. Not my scene … I eventually find one that looks easy.

Delicious lamb shank

Delicious lamb shank

You just have to peel and chop a couple of carrots, thinly slice a couple of shallots (which, amazingly, I happen to have!), peel some garlic cloves, brown the shanks in olive oil in a pan that you can put in the oven, déglaze with vinegar, add the other ingredients along with a bouquet garni (which I go and gather in the garden), a teaspoon of cumin and a tablespoon of honey. Add ½ litre of water (it’s supposed to be beef bouillon but the only cubes I have are chicken), bring to simmering point, cover and put in a 200°C oven for three hours, adding another ½ litre of water halfway through cooking. Easy, huh ?

The wood I stacked with the resting block next to it!

The wood I stacked with the resting block next to it!

Meanwhile Jean Michel is up in our little wood filling the wheelbarrow with logs from the ailanthus tree he cut down last year. During the night the pile of logs collapsed making evacuation urgent. He then takes them down to our sheltered wood pile. I play my part by unstacking them after he empties the wheelbarrow onto the ground. Some are a bit heavy but I still manage. I have a little rest on the cutting block while waiting for the next load. It’s much less stressful that having to make sure my logs are exactly 50 centimetres long!

It’s time to go and check the lamb. The smell is heavenly – I only hope it tastes as good.

My weeded garden bed outside the gate, with flowering forget-me-nots and a yellow daisy affair,  and hollyhocks, roses and irises in the making.

My weeded garden bed outside the gate, with flowering forget-me-nots and a yellow daisy affair, and hollyhocks, roses and irises in the making.

We follow up with some gardening. Jean Michel is cleaning an area in front of our little house to store the freestone blocks we’re acquiring at the moment. He unearths about forty refractory bricks which I stack in a neat pile. If we don’t eventually use them, we can always sell them over leboncoin.com!

My stack of bricks next to the first lot of freestone blocks

My stack of bricks next to the first lot of freestone blocks

The lamb turns out to be delicious. I serve it with creamy mashed potatoes flavoured with truffle shavings from the truffle we bought at the Truffle Fair and froze in January. We have a red bergerac from the Dordogne to go with it.

Our Renaissance fireplace

Our Renaissance fireplace

By the time we’re sitting in front of the fire having our decaf espresso, I think that every muscle in my body must be aching which makes me realise how out of shape I am after my flu this winter. Let’s hope the weather is going to get warmer soon so we can be out and about on our bikes again.

Posted in Country living, Flowers & gardens, Les Grouets, Life in France, Loire Valley, Renovation | Tagged | 18 Comments

Old Bricks, a Cloche and a Priory

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

While the concrete sill on the practice window (made with our new secondhand concrete mixer) is drying, Jean Michel is planning the logistics for the two large windows in the kitchen. We’ve already bought two stone sills for the rear façade window through leboncoin.com (where else ?) but we need bricks for the side window and the barn.

The concrete window sill drying

The concrete window sill drying

We can’t use new bricks of course as they would not blend in with the original architecture. Jean Michel sees an advertisement on leboncoin.com for 200 bricks for 50 euro. Considering that another vendor is asking 2.50 euro a brick, it seems a pretty good offer. He phones and organises to pick them up next afternoon. The vendor lives about 40 minutes away.

The first pile of bricks

The first pile of bricks

When we arrive, we see the first stack of bricks waiting for us. We load them in the car along with another stack slaked in mud. Fortunately, it’s stopped raining. Before we go and pick up the rest from his grandmother’s house another 30 minutes away, the vendor shows us a couple of other things he has for sale, including three beautifully preserved glass cloches once used to grow seedlings. He’s selling them for 70 euro a piece but you have to take the three.

Glass garden cloches

Glass garden cloches

His grandmother was still living in the house until she died peacefully in her sleep last December, just 4 days after she turned 100. The house turns out to be a priory built in the 12th and 16 centuries and still has a chapel at the rear. Unfortunately he doesn’t have the key with him but we can make out the vaulting through the grille.

The priory from the back. You can see the archway leading into the chapel.

The priory from the back. You can see the archway leading into the chapel.

The renovations on the front façade, with its roller blinds, are a little bit modern for our taste but the vendor seems very proud of them.

The front façade with its roller blinds.

The front façade with its roller blinds.

We load the rest of the bricks into the car. I’m a bit worried about the weight. It may be a Volvo stationwagon but there are 244 whole bricks, each weighing about 2 kilos, and another 50 or 60 broken ones. That’s over 550 kilos.

The Volvo very close to the ground at the back!

The Volvo very close to the ground at the back!

As we drive very carefully over the first speed bump, we hear a terrible grating noise casued by the trailer coupling. Hmm … The next speed bump looks even higher so we stop and reload the bricks so that the weight is more evenly distributed.

The bricks unloaded. You can see the stone sills at the end of the garden. The "practice" window is the last one on the right.

The bricks unloaded. You can see the stone sills at the end of the garden. The “practice” window is the last one on the right. That horrible concrete block wall will eventually be rendered.

Jean Michel drives home at a maximum of 70 kph instead of the usual 90 kph and we’re both relieved when we make it without further mishap. Next time we’ll take the trailer!

The kitchen window will be made after the small window on the left.

The kitchen window will be made after the small window on the far left where the ivy is growing

We then spend an hour or so loading the bricks into the wheelbarrow, taking them around the back of the house and unloading them. Does this sound familiar? Particularly if I say it’s also a fast day?

The side façade. The rounded part is the back of the bread oven. The window will be on the right and will match the window up the top, only it will be bigger.

The side façade. The rounded part is the back of the bread oven. The new window will be on the right, to the left of the small window and will match the window up the top, only it will be bigger.

Posted in Architecture, Closerie Falaiseau, Renovation | Tagged | 15 Comments

Friday’s French – je me débrouille

Print pagePDF pageEmail page

“Je me débrouille” is one of Jean Michel’s most oft-used expressions. The verb brouiller comes from the Gallo-Roman brodiculare which is turn comes from the verb brodigar in the Italian dialect of Bergamo (a lovely city, what’s more) meaning to sully or soil, a derivative of the German brod, meaning broth. In old French, it was used figuratively to mean to alter and finally to mix up or disrupt.

This is not Bergamo of course, but Milan, which is the next big city.

This is not Bergamo of course, but Milan, which is the closest big city.

Apart from its use in “oeufs brouillés” (scrambled eggs), the initial meaning has been lost. It is now used figuratively to mean “to create confusion by eliminating order” as in “brouiller les pistes” which literally means to cover tracks but metaphorically means to confuse or cloud the issue.

This has led to a series of uses that all revolve around the idea of something not being clear.

Il a des idées brouillées:  His ideas are somewhat muddled.

Après avoir fermé le coffre, il faut brouiller la combinaison – After closing the safe, you have to scramble the numbers.

Cette affaire d’argent l’a brouillée avec sa famille. – This money business has created bad feeling with his family.

La buée a brouillé mes lunettes – My glasses have misted up.

Il m’a brouillé avec l’informatique – He really put me off computers.

Now for débrouiller. Well, it’s the opposite of brouiller, used in expressions such as débrouiller les fils (untangle the thread)s, débrouiller les papiers (sort out your papers), débrouiller un élève en informatique (teach a student the basics of computing).

In the reflexive form, i.e. se débrouiller, it takes on the meaning of being able to work something out for yourself despite the difficulties, which is the way Jean Michel uses it.

Tu es sûr que tu as assez de briques? Je me débrouille : Are you sure you have enough bricks? I’ll make do.

As-tu la liste des courses? Je me débrouille : Do you have the shopping list? I’m looking after it.

Il pleut. Comment fais-tu pour le béton? Je me débrouille : It’s raining. What will you do about the concrete? Don’t worry.

In fact, the essential meaning is “don’t worry, I’ll find a way and you don’t have to ask me any more questions about it”. But I’m one of those (annoying) people who likes to know how problems are solved so I’m always asking “Tu vas te débrouiller comment ?” (How are you going to do it?). But I don’t always get an answer. I should learn to use it more myself, but being a woman, I always feel I have to give an explanation for everything!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments