The very first time I encountered Couscous, I knew that it was to become an important part of my life; rather like Pasta.
Oddly, this encounter did not take place in Morocco (I slept through my early visits to N Africa, on account of the soporific quality of certain illegal substances), but here in France where we have a large Moroccan and Algerian population.
These days it would be unimaginable for us not to eat Couscous several times a week; often in summer as cold Taboulé, but usually hot accompanied by a spicy Lamb or Chicken Tagine.
I have never been taught the art of Couscous preparation; I've just muddled through by looking, tasting, and experimenting.
The Couscous itself I mix with dried mint, cumin seeds, and olive oil, before I re-heat in the microwave. My Tagines always contain tomatoes, courgettes, chick peas, potato, carrots, harissa, preserved lemons, ground cumin, and cinnamon (the one above contained Lamb).
On warm summer evenings, to sit down with friends to a big dish of perfumed and spicy Couscous (and a plentiful supply of rouge) is as good as it gets.
Mine is the Summer of 1946 Gold Star model, but very similar to the above.
Everything seems to be working reasonably well. Some bits better than others, but nothing to give too much concern.
The brain is still active. Perhaps too much 'common sense' has crept in to replace the 'safety last' attitude of my youth, but I still manage several irresponsible and inappropriate thoughts each day.
The long side bits both work well, with the extremities in fine fettle. The long lower bits are less good, especially where they bend, but they've done more miles than the side bits. Maybe some WD40 is required in places.
It's the main central bit which gives slight concern. The 'rutting' mechanism is less active than in previous times (20 year olds with pretty smiles once wreaked havoc with my affections), both the air and blood pumps are OK, the filters do what's required, and the waste system is adequate. The sugar management bit could be better.
Obviously it doesn't look as good as once it might have (?), but I wouldn't be able to cope with huge paternity duties anyway. Perhaps it could do with being a bit trimmer, but what the hell; as long as all the main bits keep working, I'm not complaining.
I have to tolerate it, so others will just have to do the same.
Fruit-n-vegs are rather like London Busses, they all turn up at once. Now that our Calabrese is finished, we are inundated with Cauliflowers. Lady Magnon suggested that we freeze some, but I'm not convinced; these things tend to loose much of their quality when de-frosted. I think we'll just have to eat them, give them away, or make curried pickles (see here, and below).
I planted this 'yellow' Cherry about 8 years ago because someone told me that the birds become confused thinking that they're still unripe, and leave them alone. There may be some truth in this (although I doubt it), as the huge murmuration of Starlings that have recently taken up residence nearby have yet to descend on them. They are slightly firmer than the usual red ones, but the flavour is the same. The tree is loaded, delicious.
We also have a good supply of red cabbages. These will be eaten as an instant pickled cabbage for lunches. About an hour before eating I shred them finely and lightly sprinkle with vinegar salt and sugar, I turn the mix over a few times, then hey presto; instant pickled red cabbage.
Also on the Magnon table are Courgettes, Beans, Tayberries, and Salads. We are still awaiting the first Tomatoes.
And here's that curried pickle I mentioned above; just made. The very light pickle, combined with the curry flavour is surprisingly good; eat after about a week.
p.s. Our new Fridge-Freezer has arrived. Thank goodness, in this heat it's essential.
Like many (chic, fashion-conscious) women, Lady Magnon buys a new stock of espadrilles each summer.
This year she has purchased them both in plain black and navy/white striped. The striped ones have a jaunty, beachy, filled-with-sand, feel about them, and the plain black ones suggest 'don't mess with me, dude'.
It has to be said that one pair of the black ones fell apart at the toe end almost as soon as she'd bought them. Well I suppose they are kinda throw-away shoes; but even so!.... A few stitches did the job.
It's an old adage that 'there aren't enough hours in the day'. At this time of year it is poignantly true.
Between eating, sleeping, gardening, mowing, shopping, mushrooming, entertaining, swimming, building, searching, dog-walking, screaming, hand-wringing, spitting-feathers, and despairing, there is very little time left for either drawing or painting.
Oh well, I expect the world will survive for a while, without more of my stuff.
If you've not seen this (or even if you have), and you've got 5 minutes to spare, enjoy one of the best ever auditions for TV's 'Britain's Got Talent' from 2009. The fabulous Greek Cypriots, Stavros Flatley and son.
After a long day, our early evening ritual is to sit in the shade by the pool and enjoy a glass or two of rouge. It's when we begin to relax after the day's gruelling and arduous tasks have all been completed (well, most of them).
Monty usually joins us, and gnaws on his one-a-day bone-shaped chew.
And Bok, on the other hand, just poses like the super-star that he undoubtedly is, with his left hand nonchalantly dangling in the water; fishing.
Foreground: Cro's home-made Pork, Truffle, and Foie Gras Paté. Opinion, Good but slightly under-seasoned.
Rear: Commercial Jean Haget Paté Piquant. Opinion, Almost bloody perfect.
I never thought I'd hear myself say this, but I'm seriously thinking of abandoning most of my own Paté making this winter.
I've recently discovered this commercial Paté (above) that is so very good that my own efforts appear almost amateurish and futile.
This tinned Paté does not contain MY usual dose of truffle and foie gras, so I'll probably make a few jars of home-made anyway, just for the hellavit.
If you happen to be in France this Summer, and spot these distinctive green and yellow cans of Paté (above) in a supermarket, do yourself a favour (as my friend Serge did recently) and buy yourself a dozen. You'd thank me each time one was opened!
p.s. It says 'Paté Piquant' on the can, but it's only slightly so. And be warned; most tinned Patés are nowhere near as good as this stuff; so take note of the name!
Yesterday Lady Magnon was walking the dogs, when a distinctive Dutch motorcar pulled up beside her.
The dogs went mad, the Dutchies rolled down their window, and Lady M listened attentively as the dogs tore off (complete with their leads) into the distance.
"Do you know where is 'Cap du Bost'?" they asked.
Cap du what? asked Lady M.
Cap du Bost, Cap du Bost, Lumberjack!
Never heard of it, she replied, just as two small girls turned-up struggling to control the retrieved dogs.
Then Fabienne (a neighbour) arrived, and they thrust a hand drawn map at the two women, the two girls, and the two dogs.
They all looked at it, turned it upside down, looked at the back, and declared 'Ce n'est pas évident'.
Then Jean-Claude arrived on his tractor. He looked at the map, turned it upside down, looked at the back, and said it could possibly be somewhere down near the saw mill.
Eventually they all agreed that they didn't know where it was, and suggested that it was probably best to start again at the roundabout, which was the only bit of the map that anyone recognised.
An hour or two later we were enjoying a cold beer by the pool, when Lady M suddenly jumped up and pointed to the distance. 'There they are!' she shouted, as she spotted their car heading uphill towards the church (miles from the roundabout).
Then ten minutes later she said 'There they are AGAIN!' as they came back down the hill again.
Maybe they eventually found their Gite, maybe they didn't. Maybe they gave up and returned to Holland.
Finding lost foreigners is part of everyday life now that Summer's here!
I love this period in the year when one suddenly becomes self-sufficient in vegetables. I lightly 'steamed' these in Olive oil and Butter for a simple lunch.
We now have a choice of Courgettes, Calabrese, Onions, and Salads, and in a few days time we'll also have Beans, Cauli's, and Cherry Toms. Whatever is available that day; we eat.
I've not mentioned this before, but this (above) is my annual 'Pot-Luck Corner'.
Every year I save about 4 healthy looking self-sown tomato plants which I re-plant in this small square-metre corner plot. I have no idea what they'll turn out to be, they could be Cherry Toms, or big Marmande type Toms, or even Roma cooking Toms.
There's always a surprise in store; I'll let you know.
p.s. I've got the sprinkler on as I write; it's been hot-n-dry.
Lady Magnon asked me to buy a few Apples after my recent doc's appointment, but being France, and being just 2.30pm on a hot weekday afternoon, both the village shops were closed.
We're in between fridge-freezers at the moment; the old one is on its last legs, and the new big silver job doesn't arrive until the 25th. It was time to finish-off the last of last year's Blackberries.
Lady M is nothing if not resourceful; so instead of Apples she decided to use Bananas (which we had in abundance).
Banana and Blackberry Crumble? Yup, it was VERY good; in fact I've advised her to take-out a copyright on the recipe!
(above) Ms Miller and Monty engrossed in some distant goings-on.
Imagine the throaty purr of a big fat open-topped 5 litre German muscle car (yes I did get to drive it), the wild flowing wind-swept silver locks of a Canadian art collector, and an unrelenting sun beating down on the crystal-clear waters of a welcoming pool in the glorious southern French countryside.
You can't?... Well believe me, that's what life's been like chez Cro for the past week.
Our guests will be heading off today; en route for Blighty via the beautiful Île de Ré, and a few more Chateau 'boutique' hotels.
Hopefully the car's-boot's precious cargo will arrive in good order (ahem).
Bon voyage mes amis. Et a bientot.
p.s. Both Lovely Grey and Tom's HI are bound to appreciate Ms Miller's barnet; stunning!
I posted this picture of our village church door/arch some time ago, and other than a rather poor watercolour I did of it, it's the only record I have.
You cannot imagine my HORROR when I passed by the church yesterday (I was returning a lost dog) and saw that it had been changed.
I have no idea how old the door was, but let's say 'very'. I'm certain that it wasn't contemporary with the beautiful arch that surrounds it, but I wouldn't be surprised if it is only the second to fill the position.
It was made of simple planks of Chestnut, with handmade nails and hand-forged furniture.
It was a beautiful door, without being pretentious.
For some unknown reason the door has now been replaced with this brand new PAINTED modern version. Gone are all the hand made nails and gnarled woodwork; in comes neat crisp stainless steel screws, and machine-sawn wood.
OK, it doesn't look too bad, but I do worry about the white paint which looks as if it could be an undercoat for something more sinister.
I don't wish to sound like a lone 'arbiter of taste', but to me this is pointless wilful destruction of French National Heritage.
I wonder when they'll replace those nasty old stones with nice concrete blocks?
Have you noticed how Syria's in-fighting appears no longer to be news worthy; no-one seems interested any more. We now look to Kim Kardashian's wedding, murderous legless S African athletes, or the length of Kate Windsor's skirts for our daily news fix.
But back in poor old Syria they are slowly but surely destroying their own country. Whole towns have been levelled and their populations wiped out; the supply of both weapons and combatants is never ending.
There has even been a steady flow of young radical British Muslims who've left everything behind for the chance to kill their fellow Syrian Muslims (what ARE they thinking!).
I really wonder if all the different factions even remember what they're fighting about. Why Assad is so hell-bent on all this destruction and suffering, I really don't know; I'm sure he has enough cash secreted away in foreign bank accounts, to last out his days in peaceful security.
And what happens when it does all eventually 'stop'? How will the two sides (or however many sides there are) ever live together? Syria will no doubt become another version of Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, and the sectarian killing will continue for decades to come.
Meanwhile the smiling Mr and Mrs Assad have cast their votes in a somewhat one-sided presidential election that we all knew who'd win.
One of Lady Magnon's treasures from her recent Antipodean gallivant is this small piece of Pumice from the beach at Byron Bay.
Now for the 'personal' bit. Every other week I give my feet a really intense 'pampering' session. Each one is fastidiously cleaned, nails trimmed, and any unpleasant dead skin removed. When all is done they are massaged with a coconut scented creamy lotion.
Part of this process involves rubbing my heels with Pumice until they become baby-bottom soft. It is a ritual that has become an essential part of my life.
The rest of me never receives the same attention. I am an inveterate hand washer, but I would never go to the same lengths as I do with my 'plates'; however, my hands do get special attention several times a day.
Lady M's simple gift will be sliced in half and used with great pleasure and satisfaction.
Geraniums must be the national flowers of France. No country cottage or chateau fort would look right without their annual displays of these classic summer flowers.
I'm not much of a flower gardener, but in recent years I've attempted to over-winter my few pots of Geraniums. As you can see by the above, I've been successful again, and these have now survived indoors through about 4 winters.
The fact that they survive appeals on two levels; the skinflint in me loves to save cash, and I also have the satisfaction of having looked after something that would otherwise have perished.
Call me nit-picking, but if you wished to erect a gate near to an existing Fire Hydrant, would you really place it here?
This is 300 metres from our house. The red Hydrant has been there for about 8 years, and the owner of the house (in the background) has chosen the same spot to make a new entrance to his property (no idea why).
He could easily have constructed the new gates a metre or more to the left, there's plenty of room; but no, he had to put them right behind the Fire Hydrant.
Bright or not so bright; for you to decide! (no prizes for guessing what I think)
p.s. Lady Magnon has just suggested that he might ask the Mayor to have the Hydrant moved, because it's obstructing his new gateway.
The Red Cabbages are romping away, and beginning to form tiny heads. I tend to eat these as an instant 'pickle'; shredded then bathed in vinegar sugar and salt for half an hour.
The Calabrese plants are already forming heads, and should be ready for eating in a couple of weeks.
We have a few Courgettes ready, and we shall eat the first ones probably tomorrow.
I took a slight risk with my Tomatoes this year, and planted them out before the risk of frost was over. As a result they are really healthy looking plants with plenty of flowers; they'll probably be ready for early July. The variety is Ferline F1, which I'm told is a heavy cropper of deep red fruits, with a very good flavour. (Have you ever known a Tomato variety NOT say that?)
And here's a quick peep at one of my favourite crops; the Peaches are doing just fine-n-dandy. I can already feel the warm juice dribbling down my chin.
Everything has now been planted, and my work from now-on will be divided between hoeing and gathering. When crops look healthy and lush; so, unfortunately, do the WEEDS.
Pool opening, after its long winter's hibernation, is fraught with danger.
This last winter I went against most advice and covered the pool with a large sheet of heavy duty black plastic, which I cut to fit its shape; I left no central drainage hole.
When we opened up on Sunday, the water beneath was sparkling clear. Then (being lazy) I allowed all the cover's gathered dirty water to go into the pool, on the principle that any muck would go straight to the bottom, and could be vacuumed up very easily. Well, it sounded right.
The water's still a tiny bit 'milky' but this should go within the next few days.
We still have all the surrounding flagstones (the beach) to scrub clean, and the robot still has the bottom to vacuum, but otherwise everything has gone according to plan, and it looks almost ready to use.
No mice in the electrics, the pump is working, and Lady Magnon's busy knitting me a new pair of trunks as I write.
I've just been to look, and the water is 20 C. What larks!
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!