Monday 30 September 2013

Oink, oink.

If I was asked to create a 'pie-chart' of the Magnon household's meat consumption, the largest slice would certainly be devoted to Pork; second would come Chicken, thirdly Lamb, and (unfortunately) with a very small slice devoted to Beef. I also suspect that the relative size of each slice would be indicative of the price of the product.

Last night I roasted a small joint of Pork with a few spuds, and a few bits of 'unripe' Butternut Squash. What could be more simple (or delicious). A relaxing 60 minutes in the oven, and job done.

Our Quince tree is dropping its huge yellow fruits by the barrow-load, so I just HAD to use one. I cut the edible bits into biggish chunks, and gently fried them in Olive oil and butter.

Both Lady Magnon and I thought they tasted more like Pear this year; anyway, they were melt-in-your-mouth gorgeous. The perfect accompaniment to a bit of roast Pork.  

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Sunday 29 September 2013

A name; a voice.


This gentleman, above, has one of the most recognisable voices on the UK's BBC Radio, and his name is known to millions. But given the above photo, almost no-one would know who he was.

I suppose that's the beauty of radio; one hears a voice, and imagines the rest.

When I was small my parents didn't have TV. On winter evenings (I don't think we listened in summer) we would gather around the fire and listen to the radio. And, exceptionally, on Sunday lunchtimes we would also listen to '2 way family favourites' and 'The Archie Andrews show'. I loved that radio.

Nowadays I listen at night. As an insomniac, I stick a thingy in my ear, and listen to BBC Radio 4 extra, and the BBC's World Service without disturbing Lady Magnon (who sleeps like a proverbial log).

If you're still wondering about the gentleman above, it's the velvet-voiced Brian Perkins; a New Zealander, who devoted 40 years of his life to BBC news-reading. He's now retired, and much missed.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Goodbye Pool!

Stormy weather is forecast, so, whilst it's warm and fine, we decided to close down the pool for winter.

It's something we hate doing, as it means waiting at least another 8 months before we open up again. 

And THIS is what I now have to look out on through the East facing studio window; not a pleasant sight, compared to the top picture.

When we opened up this year, the water was bright green; I suspect this was due to light having passed through the rather thin tarpaulin I used. So this year I've replaced it with a large piece of strong black plastic, which, I'm hoping, will assure that the water stays sparkling bright.

It's been an exceptional swimming season, and I'll miss my 300 metres a day. Roll on June 2014!
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Friday 27 September 2013

All is safely gathered in.

As with so many other blogging gardeners, it's harvest time chez Cro.

I left it too late to buy my usual red onion sets this year, so grew these yellow jobs instead. They're OK, and have grown well, but I look forward to growing my usual variety in 2014.

I have several trays, like the above, of Bramley's in storage. We have followed advice this year, and picked them earlier than usual. We're assured that they keep better that way.

Even with our huge tree, fully laden, it was not easy finding apples that were bug-free; but that's the problem with being 'organic'. The horses are getting a bucket-full every day.

And here are the Butternuts. A wonderfully versatile vegetable that keeps well through till April (fingers crossed). Not a bad crop, as I only put in 6 plants.

Other than the above, we still have Cabbages, Sprouts, Chard, Carrots, Cavolo Nero, Broccoli, Tomatoes, Aubergines, and Peppers all doing well at Haddock's.

All being well, we should survive the winter.

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Thursday 26 September 2013

Patience is rewarded.

For the past week or so I've spent about 30 mins of each day plodding around in the woods (with the dogs) looking for the world's finest mushroom; today I was finally successful.

I was fortunate to spot this young, but reasonably slug-eaten, tête noire (Boletus Aereus), half hidden atop a small mossy mound. The tête noire  is the tastiest of the Boletus family (Cèpes), being just slightly more aromatic that its sister, the more famous Boletus Edulis.

Luckily the underneath of the cap was still perfectly white, and the stem solid and worm-free. It made a wonderful lunchtime omelet.

I just hope this won't be my only find this autumn. I have run-out of dried Cèpes, and my winter risottos just wouldn't be the same without them. 
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Wednesday 25 September 2013

Not for the 'easily shocked'!

There is one corner of the studio that I have not previously photographed. Not only is it where I keep a few bottles of elixir, but it is also home to this rather odd, and slightly rude, 'artefact'.

My youngest, Wills, was somewhere in either Mexico or Guatemala when he came across it at some village market. He bought several of them and had them shipped back to the UK as curiosities. The original supports (crosses) were soon eaten away to dust by South American bugs, and I replaced mine with some rustic bits of Chestnut.

I really have no idea what it is supposed to represent; but I can imagine!

If you own something similar, or have any information about its origins, I'd be most interested to hear about it.

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Tuesday 24 September 2013

Smoked Ham Hocks.

Brenda, who gathers her loose threads here, recently suggested that I use smoked Ham Hocks for my Potée Auvergnate.

I wasn't really sure if such things were readily available, but knowing that everything 'porky' is revered in France (the home of charcuterie), I decided to make discreet enquiries.... and look what I found!

Needless to say, this has since been used in my most recent offering of this wonderful peasant dish, and it was BLOODY MARVELLOUS; the resulting stock will make superb soup for at least a week.

Brenda. Merçi cherie; without your prompt I might not have discovered this wonderful winter delight (it was well hidden). I think these smoked Hocks only appear at this time of year, and guess what; they were in with various other smoked meat products marked 'for making Potée Auvergnate'.

And considering that a good Potée is mostly vegetables, I don't suppose that the calorie count was over zealous either.

Monday 23 September 2013


I've posted these two pictures on previous occasions, but....

                            strange as it may seem, I've never before seen them together.

After I did the little sketch, above, I returned to the site and painted the job itself (below). I must even have sat in pretty much the same spot.


I think the finished job was probably the more accurate, topographically, of the two; and no doubt I took a little more time over it.

I took the dogs up there yesterday and sat looking at the scene as it now exists only in my drawings. The vines have all gone, but the rest is much the same. The little house is still there too, and that's where I'm now sitting and writing this.

Sunday 22 September 2013

1st day of Autumn.

It was just 9 degrees C on the terrace yesterday morning, and a medium-thick mist totally obliterated anything further away than about 30 metres. 

Quite naturally at this time of year, we've been awaiting the annual Cèpe harvest; but nothing as yet. To compensate we have been offered a good crop of Parasols and plenty of field mushrooms (which we don't bother with); a delicious (diet) Parasol omelet has already been consumed.

The Chestnuts husks are now swelling nicely, someone's hunting dogs were already baying when I took Monty and Bok for their early morning walk; and I've even been taking cold-weather clothes out from my Winter drawer. I suppose I'll have to accept that my shorts will probably be put away within a week or so.

And if all that's not bad enough, the Quince is dropping its crazy crop of huge yellow fruits again. I'm afraid that all of it will end-up on the compost.

Maybe I'll bring my Butternut Squash crop indoors too. I'd hate there to be any weather damage, although superb Summer-like temperatures are now forecast for the next week or so.

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Saturday 21 September 2013

Wassail Update.


You may remember that on Jan 6th of this year, as is practised in the countryside, Lady Magnon and I went a-Wassailing. We beat the selected tree, anointed her roots with cider, and placed cider dipped toast in her branches. All this to ensure a good harvest later in the year.

And this is the result. The Granny Smith, which was this year's chosen tree, is overflowing with good quality, and non-wormy fruit.

Granny Smiths (ours are slightly tinged with red) are a good late ripening apple that keep well. A wise addition to any orchard.

Our Wassailing worked. Some sceptics might say that it's just superstition, but here's the proof; the apples are usually just worm-riddled horse fodder!

Thank goodness we didn't anoint the Bramley, or by now we'd be above knee deep in apples.

Friday 20 September 2013

Pass the salt please...

One side salt; t'other side pepper.

It's only when you spend a long time in a foreign country that you notice the tiny differences between home and abroad.

I have no idea if these French, Siamese-twin, glass, salt-n-pepper-pots are to be found in other countries, but I certainly didn't see them in the UK.

I've always found them to be a near perfect piece of tableware. A pinch of this and a pinch of that, and it's passed on. This one, as you can probably see, has been well used, and the salt has etched into the bottom of each bowl.

Mine, above, is in heavy crystal, and was made round about 1935. It has one tiny chip.

Such a very sensible design.

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Thursday 19 September 2013

More about Knockers.

I recently went to my nearby town (founded 1270) to photograph 'hand and ball' door knockers; it's a design that is found throughout France

I seem to remember that the town used to have a wonderful selection of these knockers, both in beautiful time-burnished bronze and cast iron (as above).

I wandered around looking for all the old beauties that I remember from years gone by, but for some bizarre reason found only ONE. Either fashions have suddenly changed, or antique dealers have been by and persuaded their owners to sell.

In either case the town is a lesser place for the disappearance of this wonderful item of door furniture. They were a small but very beautiful feature of its ancient streets.

Maybe I just looked in the wrong places; I do hope so.

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Wednesday 18 September 2013

Nose Bag Special.

So.....I've known for some years that I'm Type 2 Diabetic. Originally I was given some pills to swallow, but I decided to abandon these, in an attempt to control my problem with diet alone. 

I have recently had a thorough blood test, and although it confirmed that my diabetes does require treatment, the rest of me seems roughly OK. I now have just one more pill to take (twice a day).

However, I'm still convinced that paying quite strict attention to ones diet can have a huge effect on diabetes, and this doesn't mean eating nothing but bland zero-calorie yuk.

Some time back I considered following Prof Roy Taylor's 600 calorie, 3 month diet, but was warned that this could be dangerous. Instead I now intend to follow Dr Michael Mosely's 'The Fast Diet', where one eats 'sensibly' for 5 days a week, and reserves 2 non-consecutive days for fasting; 500 calories for women, and 600 for men.

I'm sure that Lady Magnon won't mind me saying that both she and I could happily lose a few pounds, and the diet is basically for this purpose. However, I'm assured that the fasting can have a beneficial effect on diabetes, blood pressure, and cholesterol; even if it's followed for just 2 days a week.

So, my beloved Charcuterie is banned for the moment, as is cheese, bread, and just about anything that contains sugar. My breakfast now consists of Rolled Oats with milk, instead of fried eggs, bacon, and black pudding. Lunch will be pretty much as before; usually a vegetable soup. And dinner 'much more sensible'.

Will it help? Maybe; I'll let you know when I have my next blood test in 3 months time (just right to stop me enjoying Christmas).

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Tuesday 17 September 2013

Haddock's; the shocking truth.

Haddock's is languishing in its regular end-of-Summer state of disarray.

It's the same every year. Guests arrive, time is at a premium, we're too busy having fun, and the weeds take over. 

Where I grubbed up the beans, and lifted the onions (either side of the carrots), I've managed to do a bit of rotovating, but the rest of the plot is affreux. 

In the foreground (rt) the butternuts are doing well, and also in the forground (lt) the Chasselas grapes are probably better than ever. The rest is thriving, but so are the bloody weeds; I really must do something about it.

All the grass edging areas want mowing too. Today (now yesterday) I'm bottling tomatoes, so things will simply have to wait. 

Unless I install floodlighting, I simply don't have the time (I suppose I really shouldn't be indoors writing this; I should be out there weeding). My only excuse is that it's pitch black outside!

Go on; tell me your veg garden is just the same!

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Monday 16 September 2013

La Potée Auvergnate.

Now that we're universally fed-up with BBQ's every night, La Potée Auvergnate, or Auvergne Hot-Pot, is the perfect antidote meal for early Autumn. All the vegetables are fresh from the garden, and our collective desire for slow-cooked indoor food, can at last be realised.

For a Potée the essentials are Cabbage, Potatoes, and Carrots, along with thickly sliced bacon and smoked sausage or salted pork hock.

It needs about an hour's boiling (I use half water, half white wine), and when almost cooked I add about 500gms of canned white butter beans.

Versions of this hot-pot exist almost everywhere that poverty existed, and vegetables are plentiful. And when consumed, the remaining liquid makes the most wonderful stock for the week's lunchtime soups.

Bon appétit.

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Sunday 15 September 2013

The Sunday Larf.

This is funny. Do watch it all the way through!

Saturday 14 September 2013


All of a sudden the blackberries have gone crazy. This particular supply, above, grows against an old ruin quite nearby, and is always spectacular. The berries fall in cascades and will continue for weeks, almost as if it were a cultivated variety (which it's not). It's one of those rare locations where you just stand in one place, and pick until your punnet is filled.


And here is that punnet.

On the way home we raided Haddock's for our lunch. Some maize (which is just perfect at the moment) and some fruit (the soup was already made). It doesn't get much better than that.

Who ever said 'there's no such thing as a free lunch', obviously didn't live around here!

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Friday 13 September 2013

Hindu Temple.

I've always been fascinated by Indian architecture, and Hindu temples in particular. The attention to the tiniest detail is staggering.

People often look at ancient English cathedrals, and despair at the loss of once great craftsmanship. Well let me assure them that the craftsmanship is still there, it's just the willingness to spend the cash that's missing.

This temple is quite new. Its building began in 1992, although the carving itself was started almost 3 years earlier in 1989. The temple was finally opened in 1995.  

So, where is this beautiful temple? Well it's in North West London, in Neasden, quite near Brent Cross where the M1 motorway heads north from the North Circular. When first built it was the biggest Hindu temple outside of India.

It often took the ancient European cathedral builders centuries to build their wonderful edifices; it took 1500 modern-day Indian craftsmen just 5 years to carve the giant Neasden Temple. Every piece of Carrara marble and Bulgarian limestone was shipped to India, hand carved, then shipped back over to England where it was later assembled. 

Quite amazing.

Thursday 12 September 2013

Winter Supplies.

Oooh Aaah, I suppose that all of us-ere bucolic types be puttin' away vittles for yon wintertide.

Very rarely am I not busy, but this time of year finds me at my busiest. We now have a steady supply of vegs, and as always I'm preserving the very best for winter stews, tagines, curries, etc.

This lot above, as you can see, was courgettes in tomato sauce.... probably the most regularly useful of all my preserves.

And here's the finished job, all neatly put away in the store cupboard (in the background are my previously bottled aubergines in tomato sauce).
Unbelievably, my courgette supply is now slowing (having dumped so many this year), so I shall probably be bottling just tomatoes from now on.

Hugh F-W would be proud of me!

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Wednesday 11 September 2013

Bloody Nuisance.


This wasn't actually me above, but, as you can imagine, the scene was exactly the same.

My doctor has insisted that I have a blood test for my diabetes, so Nurse Sandrine came first thing yesterday morning with her Dracula kit, and drained me of what must have been several litres of fine quality rouge.

In reality, I suppose it did need to be done. I'd decided, some years back, that I would ignore my type 2 diabetes, but I've recently been experiencing bouts of extreme tiredness, and I imagine that the diabetes is probably to blame.

I'm just hoping that when the tests come back, and my doctor, Françoise, analyses the dreadful state of my inner workings, that it will result in my only taking ONE more tablet a day. I am already taking 4 a day for various nonsensical reasons, and I really don't want to be rattling around like a pair of maracas.

I now await the wretched results!

p.s. I should add that my late father had both his legs amputated as a result of his diabetes; so I do take things 'reasonably' seriously.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

My Every Day Pasta Sauce.

We usually eat pasta twice a week; it's Lady Magnon's evening meal of choice. This is enough for two, and is my bog-standard recipe which I make with my 'eyes-closed'.

100 gms of good minced beef (I use pure Charolais).
1 large clove of garlic.
1 medium sized tomato.
1 teaspoon of capers.
8 black olives (I only allow 4 each).
2 leaves of chard or 4 of spinach (just the green bits) sliced into strips.
A good pinch of dried herbs.
Perhaps a short squirt of tomato purée.
Olive oil, salt, pepper, and two large glasses of red wine (one is for me).

Put a generous amount of olive oil in a pan, add the crushed garlic and the slightly salted minced beef, and fry till well cooked and separated. Add the diced tomato, the chopped chard, the olives, capers, red wine (as required), herbs, and salt-n-pepper, and cook until softened (5 mins), but keeping each element recognisable.

If I intend to use Penné (as I did last night), then I make the sauce quite 'wet', and combine the sauce with the 'well cooked' pasta. If we have spaghetti, then I make the sauce drier, and serve on top . In both cases we eat with a few dashes of chilli sauce and plenty of freshly grated Grano Padano cheese (a bit cheaper than Parmesan).

I can hear you all saying that this is a pretty standard beef/tomato sauce, but it's the simplicity and the addition of the chard which is surprisingly good. I recommend.

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Monday 9 September 2013

Shopping Basket.

This is my shopping basket (cabas). The same type as used by almost every person in France. Simple, 100% natural, and perfectly practical.

Baskets are a way of life in France; no self-respecting person would be seen dead with either a plastic or paper bag, it would bring shame on the family.

Of course there is some social snobbery connected to baskets. Proper wicker baskets are possibly top of the aristocratic ladder; especially if large and locally made, but this one above does me fine. My only bit of luxury being the leather covered handles, which some don't have.

I remember being in an English supermarket with my basket (Sainsbury's), when a large pompous-looking woman scolded me for not having taken a dedicated wire basket from inside the entrance. I explained to her that it was a SHOPPING BASKET, for SHOPPING, and she almost phoned the police. When I asked for her name (and explained that I was a shareholder) she sensibly disappeared. 

How stupid can people be; I have always refused to use plastic bags (and hate plastic wrappings), yet here was this woman almost insisting that I should.

I suppose one of the most instantly noticeable differences between UK and French streets must be the use of store-promoting plastic bags. The UK is awash; France not.

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Sunday 8 September 2013


As always happens when a UFO is spotted, I only had a smudgy black-n-white-picture taking camera to hand. It was Lady Magnon who alerted me. 'Quick, quick' she shouted. 'Take a photo'.

This is an enlargement of the beast. A flying hemisphere seen high above the distant trees.

Have I been contacted? I think I should be told!

Thoughts or ideas?

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