Friday, 30 September 2016

Preparing for the cold.

Winter approaches; time to start thinking of wood.

I think we've now got enough Chestnut (above), and the Oak has been delivered (below). The Chestnut is beautifully dry, and will probably be our main source of heat this Winter. As Oak is twice as expensive, we try to limit its use.

I've bought a new chain for the chainsaw. Each metre length log needs to be sawn into three.

The past few Winters have been relatively mild, and I'm hoping that the trend continues. I don't like the cold, I don't like frost, and I certainly don't like snow. My fingers are crossed.

For delivery in Autumn 2017, I've also bought a big pile of split Red Oak logs, which is still in the woods. These are the Oaks with the fabulous red Autumnal foliage. I'm told that the wood is even better as firewood that the normal Oak. It is certainly very heavy and dense, so I'm looking forward to trying it in the wood-burner; probably in 2018 (if I'm spared).

p.s. I put away my garden sprinkler recently, thinking that we would have some rain. I'm now having to put it all back again. Bloody weather; back above the mid-20's again, and no precipitation!

We're promised some rain for tomorrow (Saturday); we'll see. 

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Tomato Soup.

Towards the end of the Tomato growing season, I always make large bottles of preserved Tomato pulp; these are specifically for making soup. It uses up all those late-arrival Tomatoes, and goes to creating one of life's culinary marvels.

I take the biggest pot I have, fill it with chopped, and salted Toms, and cook it until it's mush.

I use litre bottles for these, and do 5 at a time (that's the maximum my tallest sterilising pot will take). An hour bubbling away at around 100 C, and Bob's-yer-uncle; job done.  

When it comes to making the soup, I heat the contents of a jar, pass it through a sieve with the back of a soup ladle to take out all the skins bits etc, re-heat, add a dollop of cream and maybe some S & P, and that's it. Wonderful Tomato Soup that actually tastes of both Tomatoes and Summer.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The 'Tower', then and now.


It's six years since we reached the stage above, and in the intervening period things have changed a bit.

Now it's almost disappeared!


Tuesday, 27 September 2016

The Fly in the Ointment.

I love the lazy days of Summer; sitting by the pool with friends, discussing nothing in particular, enjoying a glass of wine.

We've had visitors from all over the world this year. In the photo above he (D) is from Canada/Barbados, and she (S) is from Johannesburg. Others this year have been from California, Australia, and even Blighty. The world seems such a small place, yet our lives and aspirations are so similar.

The only thing that spoils such occasions is knowing that elsewhere in the more primitive world children are suffering, men are being tortured and executed, and women are being forced into slavery.

I know I tend to go on about this quite often, but it preys on my mind; night and day.

When I see pictures of middle-eastern towns that are no more than piles of rubble, or fanatics destroying precious ancient monuments, I wonder if the perpetrators can possibly be of the same species as myself. 

How can one human being be so fond of peace, quiet, and order (me); yet others think of little other than hatred, killing, and destruction.

I suppose it all boils down to 'brainwashing'; or dare I say it, 'religion'. Actually, the two seem synonymous.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Alarming Noise.

Beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep....

Cro: What the hell's that bloody noise?

Lady M: Dunno.

Cro: Is it your iPad thingy?

Lady M: Don't think so.

Cro: Well it must be something; it's deafening.

Beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep....

Lady M: Maybe you'd better go inside and have a look.

Cro: I may be some time!

Lady M: Well, what was it?

Cro: It was the Toast Alarm; your breakfast's ready!

Lady M: Phwar... open the windows someone!

Sunday, 25 September 2016

An Important Day for UK Politics.

                            Résultat de recherche d'images pour "Jeremy Corbyn"

It's of little interest to the world outside the UK, in fact it's of little interest to most inside the UK. But yesterday the man in the above photo (a Mr Corbyn) was re-elected leader of the UK's Socialist (Marxist/Leninist) Party.

Everyone seems to be happy. His supporters are happy because their man won. His non-supporters are reasonably happy as it'll probably mean a definitive split in The Labour Party. And absolutely everyone else is very happy because it heralds the absence of Socialism in UK politics for the foreseeable future.

As good a reason as any to make September 24th into 'National Corbyn Day'.

Of course this does leave a void. All democracies require a viable opposition, and the UK no longer has one. The Dim/Libs are hopeless, UKip is a spent force, and the poor old Greenies have just ONE ineffectual (but quite cute) member of parliament.

UK politics can certainly now steer a calmer route towards the future, but she would be better served with a serious opposition party overseeing any excesses. Sadly this is no longer the case.

Look at his picture, and try to imagine this would-be Prime Minister meeting President Trump at the Gold Plated House (as it will be re-named).

No, Cro; I just can't picture it.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Oldie Selfie.


Self portrait, Rembrandt 1657.

You can almost grab that nose!

Friday, 23 September 2016

Veggie's to the left of me, veggies to the right.

Lady Magnon (and Cro to a certain extent) is slowly becoming veggie.

One of her favourite dishes is a simple veggie curry. I've experimented with several recipes over the years, but she 'demands' this one, far more than any others.

It is a three ingredient (plus spices) curry; Red Onion, Red Kidney Beans, and a small Aubergine. Home grown other than the tiny tin of beans. It couldn't be simpler, or more delicious.

Method: Fry a finely sliced Onion in plenty of Rapeseed oil, add a teaspoon of medium curry paste and about the same of Garam Masala and fry for a while, add the Aubergine (quartered lengthwise then halved) and fry until half cooked, add enough water to make a thinnish sauce, then add the drained Red Beans and cook until you're happy.

I also added S & P, a quarter of a vegetable stock cube, a splash of Lemon juice, and as I had a couple of long thin (not hot) peppers handy, I threw those in as well. I cooked it about 2 hours in advance, then re-heated it to eat.

Serve with Basmati Rice, a few Poppadoms, and your favourite Indian Pickles or Chutney.

If you fancy a really authentic, meatless, Indian domestic curry, then try this one; you wouldn't be disappointed.

If consumed accompanied by Indian music; you'd almost be in Rajasthan.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Still preserving.

A very familiar sight in most country kitchens.

My Tomato plants were dripping with fruits, so yet another batch of preserves was made; this time just plain Tomatoes.

I still have plenty of unripened fruits at Haddock's so no doubt a few more batches will be done before Winter sets in. Each batch makes 7 x 500 gm jars, so 3½ Kilos at each go.

I picked the Tomatoes at 8.30 am, and after preparing, cooking, jar-filling, etc, they went on to sterilise for an hour at 10.30. All was done by 11.30; and very little work involved.

The way things are looking, I shall still be preserving well into October.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Fairy Ring.

You may have to enlarge the picture to see what I'm talking about here.

The Farm on the lower right is the house I bought back in 1972, when I first moved to France. As you can probably see, it was a large house with a good range of beautiful stone built barns and outbuildings.

In the lower middle of the picture is a small Chestnut copse (that was also ours), and just above it a large dark ring in the grass.

This ring is what some refer to as a 'Fairy Ring', where mushrooms grow. In this case it is a ring of Giant Puffballs, and is the biggest I've ever seen; it has a diameter of about 50 metres.

When it is Puffball season, the ring would show as white. The Puffballs are HUGE; some the size of footballs.

Our present home is in the top left hand corner; the pool being covered with its winter black tarpaulin.

I thank Google Earth for the picture.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Eating out in the 21st C.

L to R: Sylvie (Mme Murat's daughter), my good friend the writer Mary Moody, and the lovely Jeanne Murat herself.

My favourite (lunchtime) restaurant in this area (above) is run entirely by women; they prepare, they cook, and they serve, all to near perfection. I have been both a frequent, and an infrequent, client of theirs for around 45 years. We are on bisou terms.

They seem to have a natural understanding of what it takes to satisfy the hungry, and reasonably gourmet, man or woman, and it surprises me that other less successful local restaurateurs don't visit them, with the idea of copying their simple formula.

It really isn't complicated. A decent soup, a plate of charcuterie, a main course (usually a choice of just 1), a small selection of cheeses, a desert, and coffee. As much wine as one wants is thrown in. No printed menu, just a hastily written exterior chalk board announcing the main course for that day.

On the other hand I have visited many more pretentious local restaurants where they worship at the altar of 'minimum effort'. Entire dishes are bought-in in vacuum packs, and re-heated in those wretched 'hot water baths'. The 'hot water bath' has become the industry's worst enemy, it gives people who know little about cuisine, a false sense of professionalism; TV cookery shows, and even roadside eateries, are awash with such so-called 'chefs'.

A whole menu can now be taken directly from a chiller cabinet, with maybe just one element being cooked to order; a steak, some confit, or a piece of fish maybe. Almost every other element is dropped into the boiling water, then snipped open and emptied onto a plate. I know of one (well respected) local restaurant where exactly the same menu is presented all year round. One is happily served stuffed courgette flowers in Spring, just as in deepest Winter; all, no doubt, originating from some industrial packing factory in Taiwan or Mexico.

Between Michel Guérard (and his ilk) and the 'hot water bath', French cuisine has been dealt a low blow. Can it really be that difficult for a professional cook to produce a decent meal for about 20 to 30 people without resorting to pre-packed ready meals?

Look for the signs. A single chef in the kitchen. A chilled foods lorry delivering once a month. A laminated year-round menu. You've been warned.

Photo by Vivienne Cole. (I hope she doesn't mind me using it)

For further reading on this depressing subject, go to....

Monday, 19 September 2016

Heroes/Heroines: Gérard Drouillet.

Drouillet was one of those 'Stream of Consciousness' painters who is difficult to classify. Maybe 'Expressionist' would suit him the closest; but it's not ideal.

Like many, he started each job with a simple idea, then filled spaces to create composition; colour then balanced where his subject matter was lacking. We all do it, but he had a particularly interesting format.

He used what I think of as 'devices' to fill his canvases; the one below being a good example. Plants, leaves, flowers, and unknown objects.

I have only recently discovered that M Drouillet died back in 2011; at 65 he was a relatively young man.

A good painter; worthy of further investigation.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Scrump ye not, Cro.

I shall not be going Scrumping this year; there's nothing to Scrump (see above).

Usually at this time of year I walk past certain trees (especially the one above) with the express purpose of picking-up a few Apples, Normally the ground would be strewn with hundreds of delicious windfall fruits, but this year has been a fruit growing disaster. There is nowt.

Within the next 30 days I shall no doubt gather a few Chestnuts, and several Kilos of Walnuts, but otherwise it's a desert out there. Our Blackberry picking was pathetic, and I doubt if we'll see any Cepes.

We have a few Bramleys which will soon have to be brought in, but nothing else has performed as expected. If we were a self-sufficiency family, we would be starting to panic.

In earlier feudal  times, local peasants would gather, and dry, plenty of Chestnuts to keep them going through Winter. They ground flour from the dried nuts, then lived almost exclusively on Chestnut soup and porridge until Spring. No doubt they occasionally made delicious Cepe omelets as well; but I don't wish to spoil a good hardship story.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Final swim 2016.

We recently had a thimble-full of rain that fell during the night, and yesterday it drizzled throughout the day. What we had hoped would be a big storm, serious deluge, and four days of consistent rain, has turned into no more than a damp squib.

Anyway it signalled that 'High Summer' is over, and it's all change chez Cro.

Temperatures will now have difficulty reaching 25 C, and mornings will be much cooler. The Magnons will continue to splish-splash in the turquoise waters of the pool whilst the water stays warmish, but it's closure is imminent. 

I expect we'll also continue to eat outdoors for a while yet, but the duvet will return to the bed, and bedroom windows will probably be closed at night.

Still plenty of fruit and vegetable bottling/freezing to be done. And the imminent return of grandson 'Boo Boo' to be enjoyed when Wills and Kellogg get back from Sweden.  I'm not sure when they leave to over-winter in Oz; probably in November.

Otherwise it's Chestnuts, Chasse, and possibly Cepes..... Cheers. Autumn begins now!

Friday, 16 September 2016


French Duralex 'Picardie' glasses must be the most common in all the world.

In the picture above, the 16 cl one on the left is my normal every-day wine glass. The 36 cl one on the right is my lunchtime water glass. And the small 9 cl one's in the middle, I have just bought; I thought they might be good for Whisky or Port.

Looking at the back of the pack, I see that they make 8 different sizes; my tiny new 9 cl one's being the smallest.

I love the Picardie design, I love the throw-away quality, and I also love the fact that they (almost always) bounce when dropped. They are the preferred glass of the paysan kitchen, the school canteen, and the sylvan picnic. They are unpretentious and sturdy.

Once again I have bought myself a good bottle of Single Malt Whisky to fend off the ills of the oncoming Winter, and I intend to use my new 9 cl glasses for the occasional tasting. I think they'll be perfect. 


Thursday, 15 September 2016

Yes, them again.

I'm looking for a recipe that involves a combination of Quinces, Figs, and Grapes. We have mountains of each, yet we only grab the occasional Fig as we pass by one of our numerous trees. 

In the past I have fried thin slices of Cinnamon dusted Quince in butter, then glaze them with honey, and serve with thick cream. They were OK; no more. Otherwise I roast slices with Pork or Chicken, which is very good. Usually, however, I take a wheelbarrow-full down to Haddock's and place them 'meaningfully' on the compost.

Just look at the size of the wretched things. The lower one in my photo weighs a smidgen under 700 gms.

Oy vey.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

Youthful Dreams.

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Recently over the dinner table, a very good friend (who we've known since college days) asked 'What ever happened to your original French dream?'... I'm not sure if I've ever told this story before; but if I have, please forgive me.

I moved to France in 1972, aged 25, with the express idea of starting a 'holiday centre' for painters (my French dream). Not a 'How to paint landscapes' type of holiday, but a centre where competent painters could come, do their own thing, and maybe have a simple critique over a glass of wine in the evening.

The idea was to offer a comfortable bed, a simple breakfast, plenty of studio space, a good evening meal, and maybe some pedagogical evening assistance if required; all at a reasonable cost.

All I needed was to buy myself the right sort of biggish southern French property.

Over the years I'd managed to amass enough to fulfil my dream. I'd had a short but successful career on the London Stock Exchange, I'd managed a West End Art Gallery, I'd run my own Chelsea based Antique business, obtained a 1st Class Hons degree, done a few years teaching, and had made an immoral profit on a house restoration and sale.

French property in those days was relatively 'cheap', and even after buying my big old farmhouse (with a range of extensive stone built buildings) I still had plenty in reserve to see me through the first ten years, or so.

Having done the required work on the house, we had our brochures printed, advertised in The Times of London, and before long enquiries started to arrive. We called ourselves 'Atelier Pagot'; it all seemed to be going along OK.

Then.... I'm not sure who exactly was replying to my ad's, but I suspect they were mostly weary Psychiatrists. It was as if they were looking for Summer activities for their most difficult patients, and we ended up hosting a stream of very bizarre and unpredictable characters.

One in particular made us feel extremely uneasy. He was a gay religious maniac, who kept asking Lady Magnon if she would like to pray with him. He also had a very large SWORD on the back seat of his VW. With two small children in the house I really worried for our safety. I didn't sleep too well whilst he was with us.

In fact it was this particular 'nutter' who finalised my decision to bring the dream to a halt. I would have loved to have carried on, but it just didn't seem worth all the hard work, trouble, and angst; and we weren't even making much money. Instead, I set about stone cutting with a friend who lived nearby. Dream dashed.

Moral: Don't dream whilst wearing rose tinted glasses; or if you do, always be prepared for a shock.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Vendange (Grape Picking).

These grapes are really for decorative purposes only, it's a variety known as Baco. They look nice hanging all around the house, but when September arrives they have to go.

We now have two types of Hornet in our area, the 'ordinary' one, and the newcomer Asian Giant Hornet (it should be noted that the latter has already reached southern England).

These wretched, and dangerous, insects love grapes so they need to be picked and composted, otherwise they'll be buzzing all around, and inside, the house. 

They don't even make very good juice, so they get thrown away and covered with grass cuttings.

Seems a shame, doesn't it.

Monday, 12 September 2016

X-Hot Reggae Reggae Sauce.

I'm a newcomer to Levi Roots' Reggae Reggae Sauce, but I've been aware of it ever since Mr Roots first appeared on TV's Dragon's Den.

Hot Chilli sauces come and go, some are good, others not so good. Some of the best I've had come from the Byron Bay Chilli Co in Oz.

I thought it was about time I opened my new bottle of X-Hot, so, as I'd BBQ'd a few strips of Belly Pork last night, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Verdict: It tasted like standard ketchup with added chilli, and was far too hot. He makes two other types that are less fiery. I cannot understand the bravado of eating very hot foods or sauces. A hint of Chilli is nice; leaving your mouth stinging is not.

The Pork (which we ate with my first picking of red Kale) was delicious.

I apologise for the messy picture!

Sunday, 11 September 2016

In Memoriam.


RIP Olga Kristin White.

Kristin died sitting in seat 21C on United Airways flight 93 on this day 15 years ago.

Her plane crashed into a field in Shanksville Pennsylvania at 10.03.

She was just one of 3000 who died that day. Our paths crossed on only a few occasions, but she was a lovely lady who I shall not forget.

My condolences go to all who lost loved-ones on that day.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Pot Luck.

Often if I've eaten a particularly delicious Peach, I plant the stone. They grow very quickly.

There is no guarantee of success, but occasionally one comes up trumps. 

I've had trees that produced almost identical fruit to the donor, and I've had others that produced nothing.

These Peaches above come from one such tree, and although they're very small, they are delicious. 

They seem to be especially small this year, probably because we've had no rain, but their flavour beats almost all other peaches. No juice running down my bearded chin, but otherwise just about perfect.

If you have the room (and the climate), may I suggest you do likewise, apart from anything it's fun to see what they produce.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Make rat' whilst the rain falls.

Amazingly, yesterday morning it 'sort of' rained; not much, but it was rain. The perfect opportunity to get-on with this years bottling.

My current glut involves Tomatoes, Peppers, and Aubergines, so I made a Courgette-less Ratatouille. I only made a few jars as I had a mountain of things to do.

We already have quite a good stock in the freezer, so we shan't starve.

And here are the little darlings having been sterilised and cooled. I'll do more in a few days time.

The tiny amount of rain did no good whatsoever, in the afternoon it was back to hot and humid.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Cordon Noir.

I've mentioned previously that our oven has a mind of it's own.

We had guests two nights ago, and I'd decided to cook a dozen Quails which were to be served with a mix of roasted Potatoes and Red Peppers. But things don't always go according to plan.

I put the Potatoes in to roast half an hour before I was to begin roasting the Quails. When the half hour was up, I found that I couldn't open the oven door. It was closed tight, and smoke was issuing from all quarters.

I turned the oven off, and wondered what the hell I was going to do.

Lady Magnon saved the day by suggesting that we used the big fancy oven up at the barn, and she rushed up with the Quails.

Anyway, we spent a leisurely forty minutes over our charcuterie course, before retrieving the birds, which were cooked perfectly. Miraculously it all turned out fine, and we later finished the evening with a breaded and fried Camembert.

Above are the 'well roasted' Potatoes that I later retrieved from the wretched oven. I shall be giving it a damned good thrashing later.  

N.B. It seems as if the oven had gone into 'cleaning' mode. It probably thought it needed it.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Tuesday, 6 September 2016


I've always like the Japanese idea of placing beautiful stones in a garden; some of which may be tied-up with rope. These sekemori-ishi ( barrier keeper stones, or stopping stones) are not only to encourage visitors to stop to admire them, but can also mean 'keep out' or 'go no further'.

I often come across things in nature that have much the same effect (without the 'keep out' element), and I find myself admiring some small insignificant object that would not normally attract attention of others.

The above tiny feather is one such object. It looked up at me on my morning walk yesterday, and said 'pick me up'. 

For those who may not know European birds, it's a feather from the upper edge of a Jay's wing; no doubt designed to attract the opposite sex. It certainly attracted me.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Henri Chopin.

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In roughly 1966 I became a member of London's ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art). At that time the club was situated at it's old address in Dover Street; off Piccadilly. Later in 1968 it moved to Pall Mall and became much bigger and much grander. I then allowed my membership to lapse.

The ICA was London's best venue for everything new and innovative in painting, sculpture, poetry, 'happenings', and any other wacky event you could imagine. I spent a lot of time there, and, on one occasion was allowed to exhibit in The Library.

I attended many wonderful events, and met many interesting and well known people from the art world. Dover Street was very much a club, and members intermingled around the bar (rather like the Chelsea Arts Club today). All this changed when they moved to Pall Mall, and the personal touch disappeared.

One of the most memorable events I witnessed was a 'concert' given by Frenchman Henri Chopin. Chopin was a composer of music created using his own body (growling as he pressed a mike against his throat, etc). He worked with a multi track reel to reel tape recorder, and overlaid various bodily sounds to create 'music'; which he then played back as a completed work. He was not only fun, but he created work of pure genius.

After his 'concert' we all retired to the bar, and I chatted to M Chopin for about half an hour. He was just an 'ordinary' person (if there is such a thing), who found personal expression through sound. He was one of those extraordinary people who just did something because he enjoyed it, and thought no more of it than that. He told me that he intended to move to England; I mentioned that I dreamed of moving to France.

Looking at his photo (which I found thanks to Google images) brings it all back.

A wonderful man.

Sunday, 4 September 2016

Saturday, 3 September 2016

Surely it's not September already.

September; the month when home-grown stuff seems to be sitting on every table, filling every basket, or awaiting some preserving process. It's 'Harvest Festival' on a personal scale.

Of course, a lot of it will be eaten at once.

We still haven't broached any of our Winter 'greens'. There are plenty at Haddock's, and I suspect it won't be long.

We're still ploughing our way through all the traditional Summer stuff.

Aubergines are now growing in profusion, and we're not depriving ourselves. Much the same as with our Tomatoes and Peppers.

Still no rain, nor any on the horizon. I must go and turn-on the sprinkler.

Friday, 2 September 2016


This 4 track EP, which I bought back in 1962, was reputed to have been one of the very first records of 'Electronic Music'. However, not owning a record player I've been unable, since then , to hear what my schoolboy ears enjoyed so much. 

That is, not until yesterday; when it crossed my mind to see if it was on Spotify.... and I was amazed to discover that it WAS.

Listening to it again, what seemed so radical then seems so dated now.

Dutch pair Tom Dissevelt and Kid Baltan (below) were heroes of the radical 1960's underground music scene, and even to know their names was regarded as pretty 'cool'.

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If you'd like to know what sounds excited the 16 year old Cro, go to Spotify and search for 'Electronic Movements'. The version they have was 'remastered' in 2013.

I don't guarantee you'll like it, but you'll be listening to a piece of history.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Marsol Success.

You may remember that last Autumn I asked my good friend José for a few Marsol Chestnuts. Marsol is the only variety of Chestnut that can be grown successfully from the sowing of actual nuts; all other varieties need to be grafted.

I sowed three in a pot (above), and one directly in the ground (below).

All have taken, and are looking extremely healthy. I now need to decide whether to plant the three pot grown trees out into the open as well; we do have the room.

If all four trees remained un-ravaged by insects or disease, and grew to produce crops, then between them they could generate an annual income of between €200 and €300 (at today's price). I'm sure a 10 year old Boo Boo would happily spend a couple of days gathering the nuts, in exchange for such a sum. 

But; with all the disease around, I really wonder if it's worth it. I'll see what Wills thinks when he returns from his travels.

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