Thursday, October 20, 2011

home alone

Nic has business to attend to back in London, so I offer to dog/house sit
for ten days and keep myself occupied.

After a few days on my own, the kitchen began to look like an old time grocers store, with jars of preserved fruits, vegetables and a selection of jams for the winter months.

outside in the sunshine beans and walnuts dry 
in the heat of the autumn rays

Dolly pretends to keep guard, but she is really waiting for someone to
throw her toy again.  She never tires of fetching things.

as I leave the walnut harvest begins to swell, this is probably a third 
of what will fall from the trees in the garden this autumn.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

fat hen

Chenopodium album is the botanical name, in england we call it ‘fat hen”, there are probably numerous other local names, but this is the most common.    The reason being that it was used to fatten hens for the table.  In france it is known as “chenopode” and is used just the same.

young Fat Hen leaves

A combination of prior knowledge, a handy reference book that Aimee and Marc had with them and some of Marc’s archaeological facts have been combined to tell you these facts.

Fat hen plants love colonising disturbed soil, so since civilisations began, this plant has been growing close to humans.  It grows quickly, providing plentiful fresh green leaves that are rich in vitamin A, calcium, potassium, and phosphorus, they are also a good source of protein, trace minerals, B-complex vitamins, vitamin C,  iron, and fiber. These have been harvested, eaten raw and cooked, until recent times, when larger leafed spinaches and leaf beets became more popular and stole the show.  After many centuries of culinary participation, fat hen became a weed.

close up stems of drying seed
A resurgence in foraging and eating the free bounty that nature provides has us (well some of us) leaving this delicious plant to grow amongst the vegetables and around the the garden for later use.  It can be harvested from spring through to the first frosts and eaten raw in mixed leaf salads or prepared in a similar fashion to spinach, steamed or sauteed and served hot with butter and salt.  By harvesting the younger leaves, the plant then shoots again to produce more tender growing tips again and again and again.  Stopped only by drought, frost or being weeded out completely. Even then, it goes to make good compost.

The leaves of fat hen are not the only part of the plant that is eaten.  The seeds too, were eaten fresh from the plant and also dried and stored for use throughout the leaner winter months.  Archaeological evidence shows that an early settler of the British Isles, perfectly preserved in a peat bog, had been fed a meal of fat hen seeds amongst other things before he was sacrificed all those years ago.

a large clump with new seed forming

There is ample fat hen going to seed around the garden at Nicolas’ so we have been harvesting it by the handful, dry roasting it in a frying pan to remove any residual moisture before storing it away in sealable glass jars for the winter.  Aimee has been adding plenty to the bread that she bakes every morning, giving it a good nutty crunch.  It also finds itself in the homemade salad dressing, which goes very nicely with a bitter leaf salad and any other dish that we see fit.  It seems a shame to let such a flavoursome and nutritious freebie go to waste when it is so easy to use.

Monday, October 10, 2011

blogger stats and stuff

Well, I've just been having a bit of an explore with this new look blogger and all the bits and pieces that go on behind the scenes and it can supply an amazing amount of information on who looks at what and from where.

From the photograph of my screen, above, I am surprised to see where my viewers are coming from around the world and even what type of computers and software they are using.

Finland and Argentina, I wonder who logged on and what they searched for to find my blog.  Hopefully they found what they were looking for.  I expect, if I look further it can tell me how long they spent looking at each page and what they searched for to get there.

If the new layout persists on being unpopular, I can probably change it back, though out of the choice of seven, it's the one I prefer at present.  Specifically liking the sidebar as it gives an immediate reference back in time rather than a list of dates with no clue of what the posting was about.

young archaeologists find

Marc looking for treasure
Still at Nicolas’.  Marc phoned to see if he and his wife could come and have a look round the tower and possibly stay for a night or two.  They have just set off on a trip walking to Milan, Italy, then on to Georgia, after an interlude in India (from Milan) for some archaeological work that Marc has already lined up.  

Aimee, Marcs’ wife, a trained ceramic artist, now prefers to pot and is hugely interested in herbalism and has a fantastic knowledge of plants, both cultivated and wild, that are of use in nourishment and healthcare.  We got on like a house on fire, sharing knowledge by the bucketload.

shiny new steps and excavation holes
We got through so many tasks, refurbishing the chicken run in its entirety, varnishing steps, harvesting more garden produce, collecting sand from the quarry - no mean feat as the red sandstone rock has to be hacked from a small cliff and loaded into a trailer before being carted back to the tower.  It is later reduced to sand with the use of a   sledgehammer and more brute force.  

Marc was challenged to use his archaelolgical skills to find the corner of an old building that once stood on the site.  It started with a small trench, that got larger and substantially deeper than I had expected.  A second trench was later started in the same location that I had discovered the foundation of the wall two summers ago.  Marc dug and scraped for several days whilst Amiee and I got on with our respective tasks.  My quest with brambles and nettles is truly never ending.

siesta time
The young couple fitted in wonderfully, both at ease with the rustic living.  It was probably much easier here than their last place of work, an educational centre in Devon that demonstrated life during Anglo Saxon times.  

been shelling
Escot Village   LINK    is a village built in the style of, with the tools available at the time, in an effort to demonstrate how life was back in the day.  It’s impressive hearing the stories of what life was like and how our ancestors coped with day to day life, not only before electricity and running water, but before potatoes, tomatoes and many of the foodstuffs that we now take for granted.  Who knows how long our current, privileged way of live will last and what will take its place.  Evolution is an amazing energy.

A week passes before the two of them decide to move on.  Marc has made some amazing finds, including plenty of Roman tile pieces, although no definite corner to the building.  We have eaten our fill of fat hen, harvested apples, pears and blackberries galore from the countryside.  Had a couple of great cycle ride excursions and many interesting discussions.  Long live the village people.
impressive menu options

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

domaine laurens

where the fermentation takes place

Slightly different from my last vineyard tour, that was at a high tech mega winery in Napa Valley, California, domaine Chandon if I am not mistaken.  Here, in the sleepy little village of Clairvaux, just down in the valley, about half an hour by bike, is a tiny wine shop.  

bottle, cork, cap, label and box, all in this tiny space
We, we being Nicolas, Anthony and I, called in to buy a bottle or two on our way to Agnés’ for dinner just as a group arrived for a tour, the lady vintner encouraged us to join the group.  We had a wonderful explanation of how the valley comes to be such a good place to grow grapes and a very interesting look around a highly acclaimed wine producers premises.  It was all in french so my mental vocab was woefully inadequate but I got the gist.  

ready for shipping
The tasting that followed was generous to say the least, both on wines and aperitifs (also produced on site), and so we continued to our evening out somewhat prepared on the alcohol front and equipped with more bottles than we had originally anticipated.  I was glad not to have been driving for sure.

tasting anyone?

Nicolas explaining the valley
 It was lovely to see Angés as always, and great to be in french speaking company.  I am always relieved when the words arrive and my ears can decypher the conversations, well, at least in part.  The evening was wonderful, some familiar faces and several new ones, especially the helpXers, the most delicious food and more of that wonderful wine.  Santé!

Monday, October 03, 2011

ruffepeyre once more

the tower of Ruffepeyre
 It’s great being back at Nicholas’ tower.  I just fit back in and get on with stuff now, without any fuss or bother.  We get along well and have huge discussions about all sorts of things, the future of civilisation as we know it, healthy living, how to cook decent food, what is important in life how to live more simply.  Nic always has a huge list of tasks that need doing so I pick out the ones that I fancy, plus a few that he persuades me to attempt and life goes on.  

shelling beans for storage
I love that he doesn’t really like cooking as I get to take over the catering for a while.  It’s always a bonus at this time of year when there is a huge abundance of things in the garden and plenty of weeds and hedgerow plants to put together delicious meals.  We have been ploughing through giant marrows, although many have been transformed into delicious marrow and quince jam, liberally spiced with ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg.  I’ve also been creating Ratatouilles for canning along with green beans, carrots, windfall apple and blackberry compote, pear compote and am tempted to try caramelised onion jam, although onions do store exceedingly well without any help whatsoever.

harvest time

Hazel nuts are falling again, they are left out to dry for as long as possible in the sun before being transferred to the loft to continue their drying until at least April.  Hopefully there will be enough to this year to take to the press to produce some oil.  The nuts have to be picked up every day which gets a bit tiresome, so I am hoping on a big storm to bring them all down at once.  Possibly the end of this week.

blighted tomatoes
The damp spring has caused chaos with just about every tomato plant that I have seen.  Blight everywhere, it seems to be growing through and nearly every garden that I have seen is clinging onto the hope that they will get some ripe fruit.  I would be worried that the plants will harbour spores and the longer they are left the more spores there will be to overwinter and attack next year.  The easiest way of knowing how the locals deal with such problems is to watch and learn.  If the village elders were concerned, they would have rooted out their plants months ago, but to reduce the risk here a large bonfire is planned and the whole garden will have a different location in the field next year.