I make a flying trip to Dorset to fulfil a few engagements. Firstly my crown needs some attention and Mrs Ilankovan does the honours with minimum intervention and I hope it will hold. There is a gathering of Book Group to discuss The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver about which I feel a bit ambivalent but am willing to, in a sense, give her the benefit of my doubt because it is a first novel and this novelist has gone on to write some storming stuff. I manage a short visit to Chestnuts to see Mum and am a bit dismayed to find her off kilter, an angry personage and so I bundle us both into the car and we drive to Swyre to gaze at the boisterous sea, to watch a fisherman togged for cold and wet weather trudge back to his car with a codling on a string and to simply enjoy the greenness of winter fields full of sheep and the rolling slopes of Dorset countryside as we drive the coastal road between Weymouth and Bridport. That evening there is a gathering of my bridge coterie at the Workshop. On Thursday I give my sisters a lamb curry and we have a board meeting. The following morning I am expecting a lift with Eamonn to catch my ferry from Poole but am nonplussed to arrive at the cottage to find he has already left for work. Fortunately Cybs is able to put things right with a phonecall and he turns around to come back and fetch me.
Back in France I now have a good two weeks in view with the prospect of time to choose, and one choice is to catch up with our entertaining schedule. We have been on the receiving end of delicious hospitality in recent weeks and it is payback time.
A particularly enjoyable lunch has been eaten chez Taille. Francois seemingly lives to cook. Along with fellow guests Andre and Francoise Burnouf we are regaled with escargots (‘les petits gris’ = Cornu aspersum) prepared by Taille neighbours, followed by Francois’ signature dish of Coquille St Jacques en croute – we’ve had these before chez Taille. The meal is wrapped up with a Galette des Roi.
As it happens I have recently taken a Jamie Oliver recipe for Chicken Tikka Masala on board. Cooking curries for our French friends works well generally speaking, with the exception of certain people who should most appropriately eat at the fussy boys’ table. In particular my dear friend Fefe has expressed a liking for this dish so I am going to master it and cook it at least three times before the end of the month. My guinea pigs are F. and la Poulette, hotfoot from Burma where they have spent two weeks travelling under their own steam and look very well on the experience. It goes down well and even better three evenings later when I regale the Daniells and the Tenorios with the same recipe. All bodes well for the Sunday lunch we will offer the Tailles and the Andres.
Meanwhile in the garden there is enough of break in the seemingly endless cold, wet and windy weather to enable me to get outside and achieve. I remove the dead Cycad from a large terra cotta pot which frees it up for a Skimmia. The little red cyclamen which gave good decorative service for our Christmas in Winterborne K can be pot-planted as companions to larger shrubs. There is plenty of cutting back and dead-stemming to do and in the process I find nice Echium plants to fulfil orders from Liz, along with young Acanthus and Geranium madarense which will also find favour at Hawkchurch. There are scattered flowerings around the garden, plants which have refused to go to bed seemingly and some which have woken up far to early. I am thrilled to see that the Melianthus major which Paul gave us has continued to grow and is sporting three flower heads. Its potential is significant and I begin to have a vision of a garden which is evolving to feature fewer, but choice, plants in the future.