Sunday 26 February 2012

Two Soups

Now that the big freeze has departed we've been having a lot of grey misty days again. Soup weather. It isn't terribily cold but it is definitely chilly enough that soup for lunch is appealing. Recently the supermarket had nice leeks on offer at € 0.79 a kilo so we decided to make leek soup.

two soups
It is really simple and you could substitute any winter vegetable for leeks:

4 to 5 leeks roughly chopped
3 small potatoes
2 bay leaves
garlic to taste
splash of white wine vinegar
single cream
seasoning to taste
1.25L of vegetable stock
0.25L of white wine

Very gently sautée chopped leeks and garlic in butter. Make sure that your garlic doesn't brown. Peel and chop 3 small poatoes into small cubes. Then once your leeks are translucent and softened add a splash of vinegar. Add your potatoes and your stock and white wine. Pop in two bay leaves and season with a little salt [the stock will already have added salt] and freshly ground black pepper. Leave to simmer for about 1/2 hr or until the potato is well cooked.

Now Niall and I have a difference of opinion when it comes to consistency so here the leek soup diverges along parallel lines. Niall likes his soup chunky. Therefore, at this point I fish out the bay leaves, finish the soup with a bit of light cream and pop his half into another pan to eat [or cool for storage].

N's soup

Then I blitz the other half of the soup using a wand blender until it has a puree-like consistency, with the odd small bit left in it. I don't like it ultra smooth like a velouté. It needs to have a bit of texture as it isn't a 'posh' soup.

A's soup

For lunch yesterday we each had a bowl of 'our' soup with a fresh baguette bought from the excellent bakery in Grand Pressigny -- we'd driven over in the morning to buy birdseed. The rest of the soup has been popped into the freezer and we'll definitely be having a bowl this coming Thursday on St David's Day.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

Recycled Abbey

With brilliant blue skies if chilly temperatures, Shrove Tuesday invited us to do more than just eat pancakes. It mobilised us go and have a nose round a place we've been meaning to investigate for ages.
refectory early 13th cent. with trifoil windows
We've often driven through Cormery, a small place on the river Indre between Loches and Tours; indeed when we first arrived it seemed like we were schlepping up to Tours so often the car could have driven itself! Yet, even then we'd noticed the slightly worn signs pointing towards 'L'Abbaye de Cormery'.
back of chapel of the virgin,
flamboyant gothic and the half timbering
of the abbot's house
To anyone who is used to seeing ruined abbeys in remote locations such as is often the case in the UK; for example Fountains Abbey [Cistercian] or Mount Grace [Carthusian], this location might come as a bit of a surprise. Cormery Abbey, as a Benedictine foundation, is very much part of the town--in more ways than one!
13th cent. arcading of the chapterhouse;
now part of a 1950's house
It is as if a child had thrown mediaeval Lego in amongst the modern blocks and then proceeded to build things. Though the abbey may now be a jumble, or the ultimate recycle if you prefer, it did provide us with a fascinating puzzle to explore.
front of the abbot's house, 15th cent.
It also has a lovely York connection which we appreciate. The abbey was founded by Ithier, abbot of St Martin of Tours in 791AD. He installed 5 monks in a small cell on the banks of the river Indre and obtained a foundation charter from Charlemagne. He wanted somewhere remote where he could retreat and meditate well away from the hustle and bustle of the abbey of Tours. Over time a small town grew up alongside the abbey at Cormery and the remote river-ford location became a bustling place.
 chapel of the virgin, late 15th cent
chapel of the virgin,
flamboyant gothic late 15th cent.;
house window later addition!


In 800, when Ithier died, Charlemagne appointed Alcuin of York to succeed him as abbot of St Martin of Tours. A key figure of the Carolingian Renaissance, Alcuin set about reforming the teaching at Tours and 20 Benedictine monks were dispatched to Cormery. Alcuin died in 804. By 821 there were more than 40 monks. Cormery remained an important daughter house of the abbey of Tours.
remnants of the cloister early 13th cent.;
porch tower in the background, late 11th cent
The abbey suffered heavily from Viking depredations in the 9th century and the building remnants seen today are all from the 11th century rebuild or later. Cormery, like many other Touraine foundations also suffered under the Anjou dynasty during the 12th century; during 100 Years War [14th/15th century] and again in the French Wars of Religion [16th].
late 11th cent. porch tower; the nave is now the street

The town still has good evidence of the fortifications built to protect the abbey enclosure during these upheavals. Many bits of wall and tower are now incorporated into houses. By the advent of the French Revolution it was a shadow of its former self, and in 1799 the buildings were sold off by the state.

Friday 17 February 2012

Deux Chevreuils

heading east
We often see animals just at the edge of our land where there's a very clear wildlife trod (path). The other morning we saw a lovely fox with a magnificent brush busily sniffing the trod as it went along. It was quite large, so we guess it was a dog fox and not a vixen.

a quick mouthful

Our most frequent sightings are of roe deer: chevreuil. We don't see them every day but they are regular visitors.  If we spot them from the bathroom window in the mornings they tend to be moving from the right [east] to the left [west]. When we see them in the evenings they come from the left and move towards the right.

Most of the time, the camera is nowhere to hand or the light is too poor. Earlier this evening, at about 6:20pm, we struck lucky.

a good scratch

Two does came ambling very slowly out of the woods to the west and the camera was to hand. Happily they didn't bound off and we were able to get some shots from Antoinette's study. They aren't brilliant as it was already dusk and getting darker by the minute. We had to use the low light setting on the camera and as they moved slowly along there is a bit of blurring.
what's that noise!

However we managed to take two shots where they stood still. In one, one of the does is having a good scratch of her withers. In the other the doe is looking straight at the house in reaction to the sound of the water being pumped from the immersion heater in the barn

They are wary; hardly surprizing with all the hunters, and every sound or movement from the house is carefully evaluated for threat.

Sunday 12 February 2012

More feathered friends

According to French météo the big freeze is on its way out and from tomorrow we will have milder temperatures. This is relative of course.  What it means is we will go back to night-time temps of around freezing rather than the bone crunching -16C we've had recently. Last night was another perishing one!

Yesterday we took some more wood off the woodpile to replenish the woodshed which was looking rather empty and at -6C, with a northerly wind, the cold really bit at our ears and noses.

messy eaters!
Round the bird tray things are now very messy with seeds scattered far and wide by the grateful visitors. We had some new faces this morning:- goldfinches with their lovely red masks and acid yellow wing flashes.

goldfinches at the feeding station
We also put some seeds out on a window sill to see if we could lure the birds up close. They have happily obliged and ignore Katinka. She sits balanced on the radiator with quivering jaw trying to 'hide' behind the orchid plants. Shadow is too large to squeeze himself into the space; he tried, we laughed, and he hasn't attempted it since!

checking out the seeds

Katinka occasionally bumps against the glass trying to 'pounce', but the birds are cleverer and wiser, they know there is glass and pay no attention.

eye to eye with a blue tit
Now we wait for what is being called the 'dégel'. Worryingly, the forecast for tomorrow is for freezing rain. With the ground as frozen as it is, any water will immediately turn to slick ice. We experienced this weather in the Netherlands and it is treacherous. The only the way to even have half a chance of staying upright is to pull on an old pair of woolly socks over your shoes. One winter it was so thick people were able to skate on the roads and pavements. It is beautiful in its own way though -- even the tiniest leaf or branch becomes encased in a crystal clear coating of ice -- however, the weight of it causes real strain on trees and plants.

Friday 10 February 2012

And the freeze goes on

Charnizay dans 'Le grand Froid'
Looked at the calendar today and saw that we've been having these sub-zero temperatures since 31st January. Every day it has been -2C or lower and several times now our night-time temperatures have fallen below -10C. We've been on orange alert for extreme cold since Wednesday, and 'Le Grand Froid' continues to be headline news on the 8pm bulletin.

Having lived through winters in Toronto and Oslo where the sidewalks disappear in November and only re-emerge in April, this cold spell is no big deal. Except that nothing here is geared to that type of weather. Houses often have thin walls, no central heating and tiled floors. Not a problem for the odd cold snap of a day or so; but definitely not good right now.

view down the Aigronne valley
We are lucky. Our house is an old stone built farmhouse, so the walls are thick, which helps in this very cold spell. Some of our windows are, however, single glazed which is less cozy; and the odd eddy of freezing air curls round an ankle or neck. Still, a hermetically sealed house is not healthy either. We have shutters, the newer windows and the double door in the kitchen are double glazed. In addition, our roof is well insulated.

So, thankfully, we are comfortable and the heating does its job well. The wood burning stove in the living room belts out the heat and, as it is so cold, the central heating is on in a number of rooms as well.

our chemin looking towards the direction of the village
However, several days ago we suddenly found we had no water in the downstairs shower-room which also houses the washing machine. The bathroom upstairs and kitchen remained unaffected so it was a case of 'hunt the frozen bit of pipe'.

We have two sources of hot water:- a combi boiler in the kitchen which provides the CH, hot water in the kitchen and the guest bathroom upstairs. However, as this is a longere [literally 'long house'] we have an immersion heater in the barn which supplies our en-suite and the shower-room downstairs; a 50/50 arrangement so to speak.

So off into the barn we went armed with flashlight, hairdryer, small fan heater and bubble wrap. 90% of the pipes are safely tucked up in black foam lagging but here and there there are some gaps. The problem was we had no idea which bits might have frozen--we are not DIY people, a fact we readily acknowledge. Deciding to operate on simple logic we tackled one bit of exposed pipe at a time and then carefully wrapped it in bubble wrap, which makes excellent insulating material.

busy cat 'superhighway'
All this took a while, with trips back and forth to see if our efforts were having any effect on the shower-room. Finally we had a result, a tiny trickle out of the tap. Another hour later the water was flowing freely again. Just to be thorough we also treated the other exposed bits.

It looks like we have been very fortunate. We don't seem to have a leak and no pipes have re-frozen.

Tuesday 7 February 2012

Feathered mafia

The extreme cold contnues to bite here and round the bird feeders it's like rush hour at NY's Grand Central station. It was perishing this morning, about -12C. Our outside thermometer doesn't go below -8C so this morning we checked by starting the car and seeing what its thermometer registered.

snow covered terrace yesterday afternoon looking NE 
We aren't bird watchers by any means and have to consult a book for anything out of the very ordinary; such as the dove grey/white-ish, black wing tipped bird we see regularly sweeping across the field where our little chemin joins the 'main' D road:- it's a hen harrier. Our friends Tim & Pauline have an excellent photo** of one here.

ours! all ours!
We don't have any unusual visitors to the feeders, just the usual suspects: great tits, blue tits, dunnocks, green- and chaffinches, a solitary marsh tit -- who came last year as well, 3 beligerent robins and the odd blackbird or 4. We keep hoping to see something a bit more colourful like a gold crest -- we looked in the birdbook for what might be found in our type of habitat but no...nada.

oh good, our turn! 2 greenfinches and a dunnock
Last year we also had the odd bullfinch--beautiful!, a solitary hawfinch and bramblings, but no sign of them this year. Perhaps this is because we didn't put any feed out until it finally got a bit colder in January and they had already decamped to elsewhere.

robins eye-ing each other up in the maple bush
The blue and great tits run the show. What they say goes! It is quite amusing to see the greenfinches and chaffinches oh so casually slidling up to the tray, which is filled with all purpose seed. Mostly, they wait until the blue or great tits have darted off. Occasionally they all feed together and you can almost imagine the finches and dunnocks have paid 'protection' money to do so! The great and blue tits of course have access to the suetball feeder as they can cling on to it, which the finches can't; nevertheless the tits also rule the tray. The word 'greedy' springs to mind. Though in fairness with this cold they all need every scrap of food they can find to keep themselves going.

a great tit & 2 blue tits on point duty at the tray
The dunnocks, rather like their colouring, just quietly get on with things. The robins, being territorial and pretty violent, fight each other between every mouthful. There is much squaring off and chasing. They may look cute but male robins will fight each other to the death to defend their territory.

looking towards the woodpiles and frozen birdbath on the right

**photo taken by Tim's brother

Friday 3 February 2012

Salle des Spectacles revisited

Last January we went to a village meeting about the new Salle des Spectacles. We wrote about it here. We ended that post with a 'to be continued...'

January 2011
Well, the 'to be continued' moment has arrived; after a fashion. There has been progress. For a long time, as is common with these types of projects, nothing happened.

January 2012
No acitivity last spring, none during the summer, nor in early autumn. Then a flurry of signs went up and, what can only be described as a posse clutching clipboards, wandered round chatting vociferously every Monday morning.

October 2011
Finally in October they started taking the tuiles [tiles] off the roofs of the barns that are to be converted. The re-roofing has now been as good as finished and they've also constructed the new join which will link one original barn with the other.
a nice new roof & the 2 barns are now linked
The freezing weather we're having at the moment has put paid to any work on site right now but since November they have been busy most days of the week.

 the renovation 'players'
It is all to be completed by June of this year, well in time for the annual 'quatorze juillet' celebrations. We'll see....
... and let you know.