The well-meaning, as well as government departments, have been constantly warning us of the dangers of over-consumption of sugar. It makes us obese, possibly causes Diabetes, and shortens our life expectancy.
I was amused (and somewhat horrified) to see recently that a bag of bio, healthy, artisan-made, throat pastilles, apparently including honey made by 'free-range' Bees on the Bio Mont Ventoux, are basically 99.99999% Sugar.
Sugar (the main ingredient) is of course Sugar. Glucose Syrup is Sugar. And Honey, which is basically a combination of Fructose and Glucose, is also Sugar.
So, 200 gms of Sugar, dressed-up as healthy throat pastilles (and costing €4.30 no less), turns out to be just as unhealthy, and obesity inducing, as a cup full of granulated sugar; with a tiny, tiny, bit of Honey flavouring.
Could you honestly imagine yourself filling a cup with 90% sugar, and 10% honey, and eating it to soothe a sore throat? No, nor would I.
It's early Autumn, and Mice are have been looking for somewhere warm to spend Winter.
Both here, and up at the barn, there's been a sudden invasion of Mice; they've been arriving like Swallows in Spring.
I like Mice, but not in the house. There's the whole of France out there for them to squat in, but not here thank you!
Freddie (Cat) does his bit to reduce the population, but my preferred method of eradication is the simple Mouse trap, baited with cheese. It is almost 100% successful, and does the job with unerring precision.
Wills and Kellogg, however, don't like killing the beasts (they're veggie/vegans), so have installed several 'humane' traps which have worked quite well, and the Mice released far away.
I've also tried scaring the blighters witless, and have made this wooden cut-out of a Cat..... Success as yet unknown, but probably nil.
Only a few weeks ago, this was still hanging in bunches on the vines; now it's in my glass.
There's something magical about the process of wine making. There's something even more magical about my Vigneronne giving me a 1.5 litre plastic bottle of new wine; straight off the press (if you know what I mean).
I've been buying my wine at the same vineyard for the past 5 or 6 years, and each year I'm presented with a free sample of the new. What lovely folk.
We chat about the weather, about the pro's and con's of bread, about whatever harvest has just been brought in. We get on very well; she gives me huge Pumpkins, I give her Fererro Rocher Chocolates. We have an understanding between supplier and client that is exactly how it should be.
My car mechanic informed me last week that he will be retiring in March 2017. I just hope my Vigneronne doesn't contemplate something as thoroughly stupid.
Haddock's has a serious surfeit of green Tomatoes (as well as green Peppers, and Chillies); so, what to do with them all.
I don't usually bother with Chutneys, but this year I've gone against my better judgement, and made one specifically for accompanying curries, rather than cheese (If I say this, it gets eaten. If I don't, it doesn't).
It's a James Martin recipe, in whom I have some faith.
We tested it last night with Rick Stein's Chettinad Chicken curry; it was perfect.
We also have so many green Peppers that I'm stuffing them 'à la Provençal' on a regular basis. I don't really know what else to do with them. They need to be used-up before any serious frost ruins them!
Everyone knows about Paté, but do you know about its big cousin 'Rillettes'? I shall try to explain the difference.
Paté is made from coarsely ground raw Pork, with the addition of herbs, etc. This is put into jars/cans/dishes and sterilised or cooked. Rillettes is made from either Pork, Duck, or Goose (or a mixture), which has been slow cooked in stock, allowed to cool, then the meat pulled apart and semi-mashed. This meat is then mixed with fat (from the same animal type), and stored under a further layer of fat. It is not really designed to last too long, unless potted like the jar above.
Additions, and seasonings, in both cases depend on the maker.
Here in France we eat a lot of both Paté and Rillettes. Both are fatty, and should be eaten in small quantities.
We've just recently consumed a jar of the Goose Rillettes (above), made in nearby Cahors. In my humble opinion, it is one of the most delicious things on earth, and eaten with good freshly baked Sourdough bread, must be the zenith of French charcuterie.
If you are lucky enough to find a jar of Mémé Quercy's Rillettes d'Oie in a store near you, buy one. It's not cheap, but you'll not regret it. It is not to be compared to the inferior northern Pork Rillettes du Mans, that one finds in all French supermarkets.
This time of year can be very dull. For me it is more tedious than anticipatory.
Mornings can be quite cool, but not cold. Afternoon sunshine can be warm, but not hot. We are in a period of neither one thing nor another. We're in limbo land; waiting for the winter onslaught.
Being someone who likes to keep busy, I have drawn-up my usual list of jobs to be completed before spring, but this year's list is worryingly short.
I have the caravan to complete, quite a bit of errant Ivy to hack back, some serious weed-killing to be done on gravel paths/drives etc, and possibly a small interior DIY project or two. Otherwise most of my work will be wood-sawing, and general tidying. Haddock's is reasonably weed-free, so will look after itself for a while.
It looks as if we shall not be having any mushrooms, so even that bit of bottling will be denied me.
I shall make paté, nearer to Christmas, and will pickle onions and red cabbage, but all these activities take no more than the occasional 20 mins.
Maybe I'll use my extra free time to make bread. For years I've wanted to make bread that I could be really proud of, but although my attempts have been OK, they have not been what I would call 'special'. I'll let you know.
N.B. The bread in the photo was NOT mine, but that's what I'll be aiming for.
We are sorry to report the death of our very good family friend Sonja.
I know that most of my 'family' readers will remember her with huge affection. Her remarkable life touched so many.
Sonja was married to the eminent orthopaedic surgeon David LeVay (his book 'Scenes from Surgical Life' is worth reading, if you are interested in medical things).
Sonja was a committed Socialist, Nurse, Magistrate, Samaritan, and Quaker. One of her great successes was to co-found a charity to rebuild an orphanage in Bulgaria. She did so much good for her fellow man, that it's impossible to innumerate all her accolades
Those who knew her, or of her, may like to read her obituary from The Guardian.
Whether one lives in a tiny apartment, a terraced house, a Georgian vicarage, or a palatial pile, there is usually one part of any property that one particularly likes more than the rest.
In our small home it is definitely our pool's 'pump house'.
It was built about 13 years ago (when we installed the pool), so is relatively young.
The builders simply did the basic block-work, leaving a roofless, doorless, grey lump, with no access down to its interior. I built the Genoise (the decorative bit between the wall and roof), had the small stone window cut, helped construct the roof's woodwork, did the tiling, rendered the walls, constructed the short wall to the left, built steps down to the entrance, commissioned the two bird finials, installed the urn, and planted all the greenery.
It really has become a delightful little building which gives the pool real purpose. Without it, or with something less attractive, the area would have been a disaster.
Our little 300 year old house has quite a few pleasant features, but somehow this 13 year old one gives me the most pleasure.
It almost has the appearance of an ancient building that has been 'restored'.
Autumn does have a few qualities that I can appreciate. The intervening period of early falling leaves, and total arboreal nudity, is quite beautiful. The woodland path (above) is at its best at this time of year. Green canopy and bronze path, dappled with sunlight.
Still no mushrooms, the Cranes have flown over on their way south, and really quite cold mornings. We've been lighting fires for the past four evenings; a trend I see continuing.
The Chestnut season is in full swing, and I have already given my faithful Husqvarna it's first outing.
Logs are being stockpiled in case of a long period of poor weather, and Lady Magnon has retrieved her furry waistcoat from her winter wardrobe.
My mind has turned to winter stews, warming soups, and sumptuous roasts. I shall not deprive myself, even if my doc' rebukes me. I intend to enjoy Autumn, whatever they say!
I used to enjoy a game of Chess. I established my school's Chess Club, and later ran a Chess Club at my son's Junior School in Brighton. I was NOT a good player by any means; I was simply an enthusiastic amateur.
Chess is a game where working towards those last few crucial moves (without showing one's hand) is all important.
It's a war game. The word 'Checkmate' coming from the ancient Persian words (Shah mat) meaning 'The King is Dead'. It is a game of two sides, a strategic battle, and a winner.
Wars are no longer like this. When I undertook my school Officer Training course, the first thing we learned about the art of warmongering was to 'Go in hard, go in strong, and know your enemy'. Obviously those who lead us into wars these days did not attend the same pre-Sandhurst lectures as myself; nor, probably, do they play Chess.
These days decisions to go to war seem to be made by poorly advised committees; their whims based of the premise that if other people are having a rough time, we must intervene. This concept of 'policing' the world has been adopted by just a handful of countries, and between them they have caused (and are causing) more problems than they could ever have imagined.
Honestly, what is the point of bombing the shit out of some third-world, oil-rich, area of scrubby desert, unless there is some specific aim involved? Just saying we wanted to get rid of X or Y does not solve a problem.
We should either leave them alone to sort out their own problems, or have a very solid plan to put it all back together again. Doing neither one thing or the other helps no-one.
In war, as in life, there are people who are quite prepared to light the fuse, then hope it will just fizzle out with an aroma of honey and roses. Well life ain't like that, and there are always consequences. In life people simply end-up with egg on their faces, but in international conflict the effects are far more important and far-fetching.
Go in hard.... go in strong.... and know your enemy'; yes, but I'll have to add to that 'Have a carefully prepared end game at the ready'! And..... if it all ends in a way other than how one had anticipated, don't bloody complain.
I had a long chat with my lovely neighbour, Laurence, recently; and what she had to say about farming was really quite depressing.
There are only a handful of crops now grown by farmers in this area; Wheat, Maize, and Sunflowers being the main ones. A few farmers still have dairy herds, but most of the cattle one sees are kept for fattening.
Otherwise there are Chestnuts, Walnuts, and, if one's lucky, a few Mushrooms.
It seems that almost everything is either no longer profitable, or disease is slowly taking over.
My other neighbour, Jean-Claude, has grown several hectares of Maize this year (as he always does), and will sell the crop as seed, rather than making silage. I gather that he will just about 'break even'.
He spreads manure, ploughs, brings in a contractor to sow the maize, he spreads fertiliser, he sprays weedkiller, he waters copiously, another contractor comes in to harvest, the grains are taken away and dried until of the correct moisture content, it is stored, then eventually sold. Every stage costs money, on top of which he has tractor costs, and has to pay taxes on his land. As I said above, he is lucky to break even. (Above is his crop).
We spoke of what other crops could be grown; nothing came to mind that could easily be sold. She also said that this year's Chestnut crop could well be the last one of any real quantity, as the Cynips bug has really taken hold.
Things do not look good.
No young people are wanting to follow their parents onto the land, and I can see the day when farms will be sold to people who have no interest at all in farming. Belgians, Dutch, and English will buy the more attractive farms for their horses, and the others; goodness knows what will become of them. Laurence said they will simply become covered in Brambles; as they did in the past.
Everything goes in cycles, so maybe one day there will be a return to actually growing things, but I think that time is still a very long way off.
France is a tad obsessed by salt; I can't describe how many varieties are available, even in the most modest of shops. The 7 types above are not all I have.
I was tempted to buy some very expensive Black Salt recently (from Hawaii?) but then woke up and asked myself what on earth I'd do with it.
Above is just a selection of my different salts, from damp grey Sel de Guérande to Australian Wild Herb Salt, and my favourite Celery Salt. I could tell you what they're all used for, but I'd be here until midnight.
I suppose we should all eat LESS salt, but I seem to be eating (or at least buying) more.
As students we gave each other lots of drawings, and other works. If someone liked something of yours, it was usually given away in unexpected appreciation.
Having said how much I liked it, my friend Bill K gave me the above drawing entitled 'Cloud'.
A couple of days ago I was cleaning its glass and wondered what had happened to him. I googled his name and found that he was living (and had exhibited) somewhere in Yorkshire; of where he was a native.
I sent him an Email and said I had a drawing to show him. He replied asking if I was XX from college, and was the drawing of a 'Cloud'?
Considering that the gift was made in around 1969, and that it was just a scrap of paper 4 inches by 6, I was AMAZED that he remembered it.
Anyway, I sent him the above photo, just to remind him.
I don't want you thinking that I've decided to take to the open road; no, this is a very old, 1979, semi-derelict, van, that I have positioned in our paddock adjacent to the 'Dangerous Fun' tree house. It is for the children to have as their own little cabanon. In the past I've tried to buy a Gypsy caravan for them, but my attempts all failed. This is a reasonable alternative.
Over the next few years I'm hoping to teach the kids to cook, make their own beds, keep things tidy (some hope), and generally look after their own wee 'home'. I have a feeling that they will succeed.
I mentioned to my friend Laurence just a few weeks ago that I was looking for an old, no longer used, small caravan, and she came up trumps almost at once. It was EXACTLY what I was looking for, and at a price that didn't make me wince.
It will be repainted DARK GREEN, and will no doubt be camouflaged by Wisteria before too long. The inside will be re-worked to suit their needs; a couple of beds and a table and chairs maybe. Watch this space!
BACK to BACK ..........
*We have had the most amazing weather for practically all of lockdown.
Because of this, I wasn't going to stay in and clean, decorate or clear out
1 week ago
The difference between an optimist and a pessimist, is that the optimist enjoys himself whilst waiting for the inevitable! I AM that optimist!
This is a daily, optimistic, 'photos and comments' blog. I make no judgements (only occasionally), just notes. If you wish to comment in any way at all, please feel free. Everything and everyone (except the obdurate and dictatorial) is very welcome.
I was born just south of London, but for the past 46 years I've lived in S W France. I am a painter by profession, and writer by desire. Lady Magnon and I live in an ancient cottage, in a tiny village, in perfectly tranquil countryside. We have a vegetable garden called 'Haddock's' (this may crop up from time to time), plenty of fruit trees, and a view that takes the breath away; we also have a Border Collie called Billy. I try to treat our planet with respect, and encourage others to do likewise (without preaching).
Contentment is a glass of red, a plate of charcuterie, and a slice of good country bread. Perfect!