Fete des Voisins, Sorrel Soup, Sole facon Taille

We’ve barely been back two days and already the tempo, colour, shape of our lives has changed.   We had decided to book ourselves onto an afternoon ferry to give a bit more time to ready the house and garden for an absence.  I had left the matter of moving pots to shelter until the morning which was, with the benefit of hindsight, an unwise decision.  It was extremely hot work and I had to keep breaking off to cool off indoors.  I did have another task which I should not have delayed and this was the matter of booking myself and sister Lis into the Autumn Lib Dem conference in Bournemouth.  This would be the last day on which we could benefit from the Early Bird saving, a worthwhile £30.  So I settled to do this but was somewhat thrown when required to upload a mugshot, with some specific requirements regarding background etc., in order to process our bookings.  This took time and fortunately Nick was able to provide a photo of his sister taken at a family wedding and fortunately she carries her years very well.  I took a hasty selfie which was horrible but would do.

So we left the house and I sat, very overheated, in the front of the car with my legs wrapped round a large hanging basket which might as well travel with us, as languish at WK.  Many more containers were travelling with us in the back of the car.  Our crossing was uneventful and we arrived at 104 with just enough time to unload cold stuff into the freezer and fridge, and the rest of our cargo outside or in the house.

We were expected at Le Vast for an evening barbecue and French pool for the men.  We inspected Alain’s brood of hens, and his two lady turkeys in a small separate compound.  One for Christmas and one for New Year apparently 🙂  We also admired his polytunnel/greenhouse in which he was growing tomatoes, peppers and aubergines.  All very fine plants.  We sat with our mutual friends the Poulets and Bougouins and ate whelks with mayonnaise, mini quiches and sausages and pork fillet chops.  Cheese and Brigitte’s fruit salad and finally we could rise from the table for some pool.  Noe had been ensconced on the sofa in front of the screen watching cartoons and I joined him and tried hard not to fall asleep.

Saturday morning I spent a couple of hours at Le Dranguet, took two dips and rounded up some terra cotta pieces with Noe for the construction I have planned to make with him.  Nick and I made a short excursion to the new Carrefour supermarket which has opened up since we were last in St V and then I cooked a stuffed half marrow, one of two from the garden at Le Vast.

On Sunday we were due at Fete des Voisins at midday.  We went last year and met many of the people along our stretch of road.  This year the format was changed to a daytime event involving a BBQ preceded by oysters, platters of tuna or cuttlefish tomato salad, couscous.  And several different cakes/desserts.  How the French love their puddings!  We sat with the Osmonts, Huguette, M. Dubois.  Nick produced his cork trick to entertain a youngster next to him who was there with his widower grandfather.  There was singing by the old-timers.  One of the attendees, noted for her cookery, asks me for a recipe for scones, in French.  At a suitable moment we headed for home but not before we had been exhorted to return in the evening for aperos and leftovers.  Wishing to be neighbourly we agreed.  I could not resist the cuttlefish, or the chips.

Monday and I start the day with a bit of gardening and I knock up a sorrel soup mix.  (I am somewhat surprised to see an unfamiliar plant in one of the troughs I have sown with tall annuals!)  We are due chez Taille for aperos at 11.30h.  I have a feeling where this will lead and sure enough we are invited to a very light lunch.  Having quaffed bubbly et avoir grignote sur des bouquets, grises et crevettes, Francois produced a fine sole prepared as lightly floured and fried goujonettes with fine green beans.  Just that.  As we leave I am surprised to hear Nick issue an invitation for Wednesday.  We decide to throw in the Tuttles for good measure.  I want to make it simple and light.  After a few appetisers I serve our guests my beignets de poisson, Pollack strips in a light beer batter and am over the moon when Francois tucks in with gusto and he is delighted because I have evidently found a way of serving this fish to Fefe which she will enjoy eating.

On Thursday, in the morning, Anne and I drive to Confort Pour Tous at Reville.  This is a point of accumulation of goods arising from house clearances and donated articles.  I am after some bowls and dishes to use as draining dishes under my garden pots.  I find a selection of dishes that will work and we have completed our mission when I just happen to spot a rather nice rocking chair.  It is cane and bamboo, evidently oldish and nice because it has a wide seat.  I’m inclined to sound Nick out and then I learn that the chair only came in that morning and is unlikely to survive Friday and the weekend.  I buy it.

I have invited Christine to come over  in the afternoon as she would like a lesson on making Thai Red Curry fish cakes.  We make up a batch each, cocktail-size, and whilst she runs her tray over the road to put the little appetisers in the freezer I set out cards for a hand of Spite and Malice.  It is fine enough to sit outside in the sunshine and enjoy our pleasant interlude.  We make an arrangement to play another hand on Saturday, when Christine will give me her master class in making the mini savoury croissants she often brings as canapes.  But during the evening I receive a phone-call from England which will change all that.

 

Gardening here, gardening there………

After the Hamiltons leave us it is time to get back to full-blown gardening.  We have finally decided to tackle areas of the flowerbeds where they have been pretty much undisturbed for some years.  This involves digging out the soil, wheelbarrowing it over to a ‘processing’ corner where Nick laboriously picks out all the weeds, grass and roots and then sieves the earth into tubs.  It will be mixed with our own compost to make serviceable soil to dig back in, and to use for potting up the seedlings and offsets that are being discovered.

After trying for about five years to sow seed from Mme Heurtevant’s Sweet Cicely, when I get in round the base of the parent plant I find about eight plants quietly getting on with life.  That particular flowerbed contains Yellow Flag, a large Euphorbia, a Daphne odora, an evergreen Honeysuckle, a large Alstroemeria, an Agapanthus, a Forsythia, and Centaurea dealbata.  This latter flower is a child of the plant which Andy planted at 88 Pep as part of his esteemed collection of species when he planted up the newly created garden he masterminded.  Lost within all this foliage is a ‘blue’ rose which, after Nick and I have drastically thinned out that particular border, may be able to thrive.

When I tackle the complementary bed on the other side of the path that leads from the terrace out onto the lawn I find a myriad tiny seedlings of Sarcococca hookeriana as well as about a dozen decent small plants.  This all has to be rooted out and then I am able to replant uprooted Schizostylis coccinea – the Kaffir Lily under the shrub.  Again much foliage is cut back.

I notice that in amongst the poppies and other wild flowers which are allowed to bloom around the Mimosa there are splashes of blue, and it means that at least some of the wild flower seed I cast in that area has germinated.  I hope the Cornflowers will now continue to flower there as long as we leave the wild unmown patch.  As the weather is dry I put out my willow goose and cockerel to add a bit of interest.

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The weather is very hot and although Nick and I are on a mission to ‘get back control’, get some exercise and lose weight (too much wonderful food in South Africa) I find I have to work for perhaps an hour then retreat indoors and find another task.  No shortage of those!  There are jobs to do all over the garden so it is a matter of chasing the shade as the sun traverses from east to west over our south-facing house.

After the weekend during which the Tuttles arrive, we then have them over for supper on Monday evening.  We socialise again on Wednesday when Dede and Francoise invite us for supper after the hottest day of the year so far, and according to BBC news, record highest temperatures in parts of the UK.  The following morning I cycle down to the slipway by the oyster park.  It is high tide and I meet up with the Burnoufs and their other guests of the previous evening for a swim.  The key factor is that is high tide, so the sands and the oyster tables are nowhere to be seen.  There are just some steps to descend and then Plouf, into the sea.  With the seawall and the side of the slipway it feels a bit like a seawater swimming pool.  The following morning I repeat the exercise with Anne, having sold the idea to her the previous evening when the Poulets came over for curry.  They brought Noe with them and I was all set to give him his spaghetti Bolognese when his mother arrived to take him home to bed.  Another time I will make sure his meal is ready when he arrives in order to avoid the sight of his sad little face as he wished me goodnight 😦

Late on Friday night Nick and I fetched up in Poole and we are almost the last to check through customs.  We have Cybs and Eamonn staying with us for the next two nights as they have a family event.  We have come back for Mark the Greyhound’s 50th.  I spend a good hour watering into the early hours of Saturday.  During the day we tackle garden no. 2 and Nick makes good headway with the pergola he is erecting.  Once plants have been rescued from the brink I can put it off no longer.  Strawberries must be harvested before too many more rot away.  I find fruit-picking such a chore, so boring.  Nick and I spend an hour picking about 12lb of fruit.  IMG_6949 40Then it has to be picked over, quality control……  I chuck out squishy fruit onto the lawn for the blackbirds to pick over…………..Cue jam, ice cream, freezing, feed supper guests on Wednesday.    As we eat home-grown globe artichokes, asparagus spears, new potatoes, rhubarb – some of this produce brought across from France – it does give us pleasure to feel that we provide a regular if small input into our diet.  The jury is out on the gooseberries we picked just before leaving.  Let’s hope these gooseberries don’t make fools out of us!

Razor-clamming Days

These are cold, windy days on the east Cotentin.  Nick is spending a lot of time in the Bois de Rabelais where he and fellow woodsmen have felled an ancient beech and are busy logging it.  Dede l’Accroche is a willing helper.  He of the fungus forays, prawning pursuits, razor-clam raids.  When we arrived in St Vaast we found a yellow plastic bag hanging on our front door handle.  A gift of some couteaux from Dede.  IMG_6653 (2).JPG

Two days ago Nick and I braved a squall, with wind-driven rain pricking our faces, to go digging with Dede for couteaux.  At first Nick had mixed success whilst I trickled up and down the shoreline peering into the murky, rippling sea looking for scallops and other goodies.

Rejoining Nick I started to help him look for the characteristic depressions or holes at the surface which suggest an inhabitant in the sand below.  Soon we set up an efficient team.  I spotted the holes, Nick dug deep with his trusty French fork, and I scanned the diggings to look for razor clams which I spotted more easily than Nick did.  Et voila!  Une bonne equipe 🙂

Later in my kitchen, whilst processing the clams for supper I steamed some of the razors in white wine so the shells could flip open.  What a surprise.  A new piece of information for this seasoned conchologist.  During the foray I had noticed one razor clam that went into the basket was the non-native species Ensis leei, formerly known as Ensis americanus or Ensis directus As one of its names implies, the species is a North American alien, which was first recorded in 1979 near the Dutch coast, spread across the North Sea and is now rapidly spreading in northern direction and also working its way round the English and French coasts of the Channel.  It seems to do well because it has slightly different sedimentary preferences from our other native species.

My new piece of information is that, in addition to the morphological differences in shell shape, and internal muscles scars, the soft body is different too.  It is a strange body indeed, and has invoked some saucy suggestions from those who are familiar with it 😀  And it would seem that, certainly after cooking, the foot of the animal has a rosy blush that the white animal of Ensis arcuatus does not have.  Useful stuff 😀

 

A Walk in the Woods

When Dédé and Françoise proposed a walk in the woods, little did I imagine what a unique moment this would be, for me.  Françoise’s email ran as follows “Mercredi,  à 14 heure veut tu venir avec André et moi aux champignons?   Nous serons de retour pour 17 hr.  On vient te chercher si tu peux ? Gros Bisous.   ‘Aux champignons?  In December?!!  I concluded that ‘aux champignons’ would be an expression, a watchword if you like, to denote a gentle ramble in the countryside.

Since Nick and I bought our French house eleven years ago we have never been for a walk in French woods!  IMG_5347 (2).JPG

When I think about that it is rather extraordinary.  We have walked often enough along the shores and coast of the Cotentin, round La Hougue many times, and less frequently inland within our neighbourhood.  But we have not experienced true French countryside at first hand.  One reason is that ‘the right to roam’ does not exist in France.  Much land is in private ownership and much of that is managed for hunting.  ‘Chasse garde’ or ‘Chasse prive’.

We were picked up at 2 o’clock and the first surprise was that we would be going by car.  Dédé drove us to a bit of well-established woodland that he has known since he was a boy.  Indeed as a boy he used to forage for mushrooms. I think it was a clandestine activity; I am not even sure we should be here today, there are wooden signs nailed to trees all around.  img_5333-2 It would not be giving too much away to say that the locality is called Montaigu, a sprawling area of woodland either side of the main road to Valognes.  Montaigu la Brisette covers an area of some 1500 sq. km.  We drove down a few lanes and then a track.  Dédé parked the car.  There was a very fine drizzle, at times more like a swirling mist, which persisted throughout the afternoon.  It was rather pleasant: humidity and fungi are happy companions.  We walked into the woodland with some purpose and before long our hosts were stopping and staring at the ground.  And there they were, small brown circular shapes with fluted edges, the caps of Chanterellesimg_5336-2Chanterelles, also known as Girolles, Cantharellus cibarius, are probably the best known species of the genus Cantharellus.  Wikipedia tells us that the mushroom is orange or yellow, meaty and funnel-shaped. On the lower surface, underneath the smooth cap, it has gill-like ridges that run almost all the way down its stipe, which tapers down seamlessly from the cap. It emits a fruity aroma, reminiscent of apricots and a mildly peppery taste and is considered an excellent edible mushroom.

Our mushrooms, my expert mycologist sister has since told me, were  Cantharellus infundibuliformis.  img_5339-2A common mushroom that grows in large groups in wooded areas and damp places. They are characterized by dark brown caps that measure up to two inches across and brownish-yellow stems. The underside of the cap features narrow veins rather than gills. They are known as Yellow Legs and have a pleasant aroma but are very bitter if eaten raw. They are best when added to dishes that are slow cooked which makes them tender and much more flavoursome. They will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to a week and they are very easy to dry.

We browsed our way through the woods, stooping to gather freely where the toadstools were fruiting.  img_5349-2Once you knew what you were looking for their congregations were not difficult to spot.  They appear, in pockets, in much the same places year after year.  We all gathered a magnificent haul of the dainty mushrooms.  Along the way we saw other fungus species.  Dede gave me their names and I later emailed Françoise: “J’ai trouvé les autres champignons dont nous avons parlé aujourd’hui, Peziza orangée, Clavaire choufleur, Pied de mouton.  Il y avait , je pense un autre quatrieme ‘quelquechose de bois’ que j’oublie?  Donc Peziza s’appelle Orange Peel fungus (zeste du orange), Clavaire choufleur s’appelle Coral fungus, Pied de mouton s’appelle ‘Wood Hedgehog fungus’ cela veut dire Herisson du bois!!  Ce nom-là est tres drôle.”img_5356-4

At the end of our walk Dédé stopped to take some small pine tree branches for Christmas decoration then we took a circuitous route back to the car.  img_5350-2As we swished our way through the thick and loosely packed leaf litter, with the starkness of the tall skinny pine trees and the prickly holly scrub all around, I was reminded of Middle Earth, and hobbits, and hidden places where secretive and unseen beings may be watching.  These woods are known to be home to wild boar; we saw plenty of evidence of scrapes in the rich, vegetative soil, especially beneath trees.  Wild boar root for acorns but there were few oak trees around.  I wondered if the animals had been searching for truffles.  Ever since I read Richard Fortey’s homage to woodlands  I have learnt that truffles might be more widespread than is believed.  The locations where you can find truffles are not often shared between fungi officinados.  They are expensive.  I checked one supplier’s prices: a smooth black truffle about the size of a conker would cost you £49.  There is so much mystique around the subject. img_5361-2

Delivered to our front door we thanked Dédé and Françoise as profusely as we could in flowery French, for such a wonderful and very special afternoon with them.  Fungi foragers do not easily share their haunts and expertise with others.  Once indoors I set to and sorted my haul into mushrooms that would be dried, others to cook within a few days and, following Dede’s advice, I removed all the stalks which would be used to make a veloute.

The following day I sautéed some in a pan with butter then folded them through some saffron tagliatelle with crème fraiche.  Another way to eat the fresh little mushrooms is to fry them in a pan until crispy and then make an omelette around them.img_5370-2

Drying mushrooms is a very straightforward process.  Various methods are suggested although I discovered that putting them in a very low temperature oven did not work as the mushrooms started to cook and yield their liquid.  Better was putting them on a wire rack on top of the wood-burning stove.  I have a proper food dryer and dehydrator but not where I need it!

Gathering wild mushrooms then taking them home to create tasty dishes; it doesn’t get much better.

 

Seven Shellers wash up at St Vaast

Earlier this year the Programme Secretary of the Conchological Society made a plea for offers to lead field trips.  I looked at my diary and the timing of spring tides and offered a few days in October.  The year wore on, our diary filled up, the EU referendum happened and my enthusiasm waned somewhat.  However an Offer means an Offer so here we are awaiting the arrival of three couples and a single woman – all these people are members of the Society but are, to all intents and purposes, friends too.   Although we are all mollusc enthusiasts and we are gathered to look for and record occurrences of marine molluscs,  the second discipline that unites us is archaeology.  Seven out of the nine share that skill, whereas only five us could be said to be mollusc experts.  By Saturday evening we are assembled and sit down to share our welcoming House Special, a fish pie.

On Sunday I propose that we should visit the shore where Nick and I found two live ormers (Haliotis tuberculata) about eight years ago. Despite the benefit of several pairs of eyes we do not succeed.  I keep my eyes open all week and it is only on the last day of fieldwork that some of us find fragments of abalone shell on a beach on the north Cotentin at Plage des Sablons.  I know that the species is living at Cap Levi because I have witnessed pecheurs a pied coming off the beach with ormers in their string collecting bags.  Although we are working springs I think we probably need the best spring tides to have a chance of finding the animals.

We work several shores and Nick, Bas and Terry go out twice on Aroona with our small Naturalists’ Dredge.  They have some success with these trips and Bas seems well pleased with the hauls.  I think the highlight of shore excursions must lie in the foray that we make onto the sandflats on the seaward side of the town marina.  This is the area that is traditionally dug for Razor Clams when spring tides prevail.  Our good friend Andre agrees to accompany us onto that shore and show us how it is done.  Nick has had this experience before and in the past I have gone down onto the beach to observe the locals wielding their clamming forks.  It is a bit of a feeding frenzy and at the end of the afternoon the sandflats are a devastation.  Fortunately in comes the tide and many of the spoil heaps are washed over although the following day does still bear witness to the upheaval.  The darker sediments which are turned over in the hunt for razor clams remain near the surface for several tides afterwards before they are taken back into the mix.

At the end of the afternoon we have a very decent haul of Ensis arcuatus and assorted clams, a couple of Buccinum, and some King and Queen scallops.  Over the next couple of days we eat some of our foraged molluscs with risotto, and enjoy razor clams with tagliatelle and a wine, cream, garlic and parsley sauce.  These things taste so good.  I feel like a ‘creature’ of the sea.

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At the end of the trip our house guests go home.  It has been an interesting week and we have pulled some decent species lists together for the various sites we worked.  Three of us couples have been spending a week in September together for the past seven years.  We have rented a big house and have been working on stretches of coast in various parts of the country: Skye, Pembroke, Connemara, north Devon, Scarborough, Anglesey and most recently south Devon.  It has always been fun, notably because we thoroughly enjoy going to the shore whether to shell or birdwatch of just to amble.  We three women thoroughly enjoy cooking for the assembled.  We take it in turns.  But something has changed and we can blame that on Brexit.  Would that we had all voted the same way but you cannot turn the clock back.  Divisions have riven the country, communities, families and groups of friends.  The damage runs deep for some more than others.  As I say, something has changed and our particular golden age of sharing a capacious house with a large table to eat and discourse around has passed.  In these recent days I have read a cleverly worded definition of ‘Leave’ in the context of the EU:  it will be ‘To regain what we never lost by losing everything we ever had’

Return of Cybs and Eamonn

Originally pitched for March, delayed until June then shifted back even further because of an unavoidable conflict of dates, Cybs and Eamonn finally arrive in St Vaast for their long weekend of fishing and jam-making.  And very much more.

On Saturday morning Cybs and I go to market to shop for the cheese platter we will be taking to dinner chez Dupont in the evening.  I have already told Cybs that we will only be able to make Victoria plum jam using our own plums, as the cheap apricots are over.  So imagine my surprise when she spots a stall selling cardboard trays of apricots at a very good price.  Back at the house we knuckle down with fruit preparation and set up our cottage industry and produce a very large number of pots.

That evening the four of us sit down to dinner with Martine and Alain, Bri and Georgy, Anne and Francois.  With courses produced by all of us it is a splendid meal and Cybs once again gets a chance to demonstrate her skill with a pool cue playing table petanque.

We manage a walk into the port and round La Hougue and Eamonn captures the spirit with his camera

 

It is a weekend of special skies and spectacular watery vistas

And on Sunday when our visitors must return to our shared Dorset village ready for business on Monday morning we try out the Sunday brunch on offer at Le Goeland.  It is a meal with a French twist and does us very nicely.

 

 

Outdoor Lights

Five days after returning from France there is a treat in store.  Fortuitously the family finds itself in the same country with a weekend to spare.  Not always easy to engineer with the diversity of activities in which we, and particularly the youngest generation, are becoming involved.  Climbing, singing, music gigs…… we pack our lives.

Happily Barns and Lukie live in a cottage on a farming estate in Oxfordshire, an easy destination at which all of us can converge.  The cottage is small and we are fifteen souls.  Because Barns is involved in the Scouting movement, our weekend will be focused on the great outdoors.  When we arrive a fire is already alight, fuelled by logs from the adjacent woodland, wherein rootle the pigs from which source comes the giant joint of meet pot-roasting in an extra large saucepan.  The fireplace is neatly constructed from bricks, a few courses forming a horse-shoe into whose opening logs are steadily fed as the fire burns.

Before we can eat this meat there is lunch; a cauldron of sweet corn soup is followed by cheese and pate with a fruit platter to finish.  Our afternoon passes very amiably, the children range around………… rehearsing and filming dramatic antics,  scampering around the environs of the cottage, dancing.  The adults catch up with each other and amongst diverse topics the conversation reverts time and again to the unending pantomime of events that the Brexit vote engendered.  At one point Lola comes up to me and says that as well as young people having the vote, she hopes I won’t be offended if she suggests that old people should be stripped of theirs; presumably at the point at which their selfish desires override the best interests of the population at large!

When we eat the evening meal it is a triumph of deliciousness.  The slow-cooked pork is tasty and succulent, the large pan of dauphinoise potatoes cooked on the open fire yummy, and for good measure Lukie has made a spinach and mushroom niceness cooked in filo pastry.  With crunchy bar ice-cream and berries for afters.  We had hoped to have an outdoor viewing of The Martian before bed but suddenly it is all very late.  A quorum of us have a hasty game of Perudo before people melt away to their beds under canvas, leaving Nick and I the luxury of a real bed and some of the others squeezed into bunk beds in the cottage.

Sunday brings a lovely surprise when, just as we are about to eat our brunch cooked on the open fire, whose embers were successfully rekindled by Joel, Barney’s schoolfriend Andy Doran arrives with Paul Cutler.  Andy is over from Berkeley for the purposes of a conference but has used the opportunity to tarry a while in Europe.  Andy holds a special place in Nick’s and my affections: he masterminded and helped to execute the Hanging Gardens of Peperharow Road back in the 90s. For which we will be ever grateful.  After our hearty brunch comes riverside time, kayaks are retrieved from the barn and transported to the bank of the Thames by Shillingford Bridge.  There the young paddle up and down a stretch of water, and Nick has his first shot at paddling his own canoe for real.  Back at the cottage there is another round of feasting before we come to a parting of the ways……… until the next time.

As a nice little goody bag, Lukie hands me a plastic carrier full of their homegrown spinach and coriander.  I make a delicious pesto with the latter the following day: to the cups of coriander I add garlic, walnuts, olive oil and a little salt.  Over successive days we eat it with steamed carrots, tomato and courgette tart, fish pie.  It is a delicious alternative to the more conventional basil pesto and the little jars of it will be great to pull out of the freezer from time to time.  I must try and grow my own coriander next year.

 

Little Red Fishes

I wake to bright sunshine and after munching on a mini pain au raisin I hop round to the beach for a swim.  I am loving these swims more and more.  After the shock of immersion, particularly when the body has been warmed by the sun, within a minute I am warmed up and then swim gently, sometimes on the spot just enjoying the pull on my arms as I breaststroke in the lovely water.  My glass of rose at La Terrasse afterwards is refreshing and we sit and watch the passers-by.  I experience a momentary flush of holiday well-being.

Back onboard Francois is busying patiently in the kitchen.  blogIMG_6060 (2)He has bought some pretty red mullet which he is gutting and he is cutting up some cute little squid.   blogIMG_6061 (2)These morsels will be lightly fried and then eaten with a crust or two of bread.  The French don’t bother very much with vegetables.  This tasty lunch is followed by the customary siesta then I must shop at the supermarket for my Bolognese sauce ingredients.  I’ve decided to offer a Spaghetti Bolognese meal after walking past an Italian restaurant in the marina every day.  It’s a long time since I enjoyed this classic Italian dish.

The following day we head out to sea after a lunch of Choucroute with petit sale, frankfurters and Strasbourg and Alsace sausage.  Francois has decided to take us west along the coast towards St Tropez.  This stretch of coast does not look so intensively developed as the coast running out from Cannes.  The village and port are very picturesque from the sea with the bell tower and the round tower of Portalet.  On our way back to Frejus we turn inland and find ourselves at the entrance to the lacustrine settlement of Port Grimaud, known locally as Venise Provencale.  It is a canal town which looks as if it has been established longer than its 50-year history.  It was a marshland swamp until a young architect, Francois Spoerry developed the area using local materials and architectural styles traditionally used in the region in order to achieve a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood.  The canals splaying out from the port host 2,400 dwellings and 2000 moorings distributed over twelve islands connected by fourteen bridges, 7km of canals and 14 km of piers.  In many instances you can moor your boat in front of your living room! blogIMG_4483 (3)

Many photos and one video later Francois skilfully negotiates a passage out of the canal network with its fringe of bankside residences.  I have been fascinated by his ability to steer his boat to very precise requirements: the canals are narrow and most of the housing, built as terraces of dwellings have small gardens giving onto a narrow strip functioning as a pontoon along which boats are moored.  Room for manoeuvre is in places very tight indeed.

Towards the end of our run back to Frejus I start to make my Bolognese for the following day.  It is simmering nicely as we tie up to our pontoon.  Our light supper is distinctly molluscan: Murex and Octopus.  Eaten with Pave and some of Nick’s mayonnaise it is all I need to round off the day.

 

White Knuckle Ride in a Biscuit Tin

The Mistral has blown up again and we must wait for Olivier to come and advise on the matter of the boat batteries.  I have rounded up some small viennoiseries from the boulangerie by the marina for breakfast.   The morning will be spent working round the three men who have the deck in the cabin up and are poking around in the boat’s bowels.  It is established that the problem is not with the batteries but with the charger and a new one must be ordered with minimum delay.  blogIMG_6064 (2)Cue leafing through catalogues.

Today Nick and I are invited to share a celebratory lunch with Francois and Fefe to mark their 47th wedding anniversary.  The chosen venue is a Vietnamese restaurant called Chez Diem in the centre of Frejus.  Francois has borrowed Olivier’s wife’s car in order to drive us there.  It is a small, squarish model into which we squeeze for what will be a sometimes hair-raising trip.  Francois is already a bit stressed by the matter of trying to find a mail order outlet that will enable him to order a charger and have it delivered to the marina.  This has involved attempting to place an order with an English supplier which has a depot nearby.

We set off a bit uncertainly, lurching between lanes whilst making last minute decisions according to traffic flow.  It’s a bit like dodgems and it doesn’t help when Francois takes a call from England on his mobile.  We drive a circuit of Centre Ville, rattling around in our biscuit tin, searching in vain for a parking space.  As the car stalls at each junction there are muttered curses of “merde” and “putain” from the driver’s seat and “Poulet, Poulet fait attention” from the seat behind him.

The rain begins to fall and when we finally find a parking space and spill out the Tailles then decide that we don’t really have time to do the market before lunch so we get back into the car to try and find a ‘parking’ nearer the restaurant.  Nick and I exchange conspiratorial glances.  Rarely is Nick fazed although he has never found it easy to be a passenger.  In the event we now find ourselves in the queues of traffic we were trying to avoid in order to gain the centre of Frejus.  Eventually we find the carpark which is adjacent to ‘Chez Diem’.

All is made thoroughly worthwhile by a superb Vietnamese lunch where Fefe and I start with crispy Beignets of Crevettes,  and some shared Nems.  We call these latter Spring Rolls in the UK.  I choose Squid Hong Kong style, spicy and tender.  As we eat and drink we become increasingly mellow.  blogIMG_5349 (2)This meal carries me right through the afternoon and into the evening.  At supper-time a hard-boiled egg, some tomato and leaf salad is all that I need.

Whilst we have been with the Tailles at Frejus I have been following the news from England and in particular the progress of the campaigning for the forthcoming EU Referendum.  The most recent polls are showing a tilt towards the Leave campaign which I find sad and depressing.  I am feeling a real sense of displacement here in the south of France.  With the electrical glitsches that have arisen on the boat we are pretty much grounded.  Nevertheless we are able to get to sea for a limited run because Olivier has lent us a charger to boost the batteries and give us enough juice for a few hours at sea.  We don’t plan to venture far afield but sail east towards Agay where we find a sheltered anchorage.  Francois cooks us delicious bavettes for lunch which we eat with boiled potatoes in their skins and one of my basil and tomato salads.  Crashing out on my bunk, the next thing I know we are moored back in the marina and there are gales of laughter emanating from the cockpit.

Sitting in the cockpit at the end of the afternoon I happen to glance up at the small screen where French news is being broadcast.  We learn that Jo Cox, an English MP and rising star in the Labour Party, and who is very pro EU, has been shot and killed.  This is a tragedy that has far-reaching implications.  There are many moving tributes including a tear-jerking item by her husband Brendan.  She was evidently a truly good person and was murdered because of what she believed in and worked for.  This makes me very sad and I have already been feeling unsettled and somewhat pessimistic as we approach voting day.  It is the most important vote that I am likely to make in my lifetime and perhaps the most significant historical moment for my country too.

Supper on the boat is a muted affair and before I retire to my bunk with my current read, a Mo Hayder thriller, I mix up the marinade for the chicken joints we bought at the supermarket for tomorrow’s lunch which will be Jamie Oliver’s Gurkha Chicken.

 

 

Juicy White Asparagus and Marmalade Cocktails

There is an issue with the outboard motor and Francois and Nick need to give it some attention.  This is a protracted business and involves consultation with Olivier the marina mechanic who advises various measures.  The problem stems from the fact that the motor was dropped into the sea 😦 and although it has since been serviced it still does not work properly.  The various adjustments are made and the motor is once more in working order.

Lunch today is simple.  Fefe has carefully peeled some fat white asparagus spears.  They have the girth and length of those little wooden rolling pins you get in kids’ pastry sets!  Poached to perfection they are then ready for dipping into a homemade mousseline (a mayonnaise made with egg white).  To follow we have a few slices of boiled saussison and some boiled Rouge Cherie potatoes.  My afternoon slips away on my bunk and it is late afternoon when I wake.  The Mistral, which has been promised these past few days, is rising.  I first notice then we go round to our bit of beach for a swim.  The water is unpleasantly choppy and there is detritus floating close to the shoreline.  IMG_4416After our swim we rejoin the others and have an Aperol Spritz – a cocktail of slightly bitter orange liqueur, Prosecco, tonic water and slices of orange and I love its marmaladey taste.  Supper on board will be easy, gravadlax, salads from yesterday, this preceded by air dried ham and melon.  This day has followed a very Mediterranean diet and I am beginning to feel that I am shedding an ounce or two 🙂

During the night the wind moans like the rush that precedes an underground train before it clears the tunnel and pulls alongside the platform.  And there are some intermittent gusts which wake me but I read myself back to sleep.  There are mini-croissants for breakfast and passion fruit.  These days I skip my cup of Red Bush tea.  Without china cups it is a bit of a hardship!  I go straight into the coffee and I like the brand we are using very much: Velour Noir.

This day is mini-market day and we are after some fish.  There has been some discussion between Francois and Fefe about ‘os de seiche’ which I understand to be cuttlebones.  I am wondering where this fits into our provisioning until I suddenly understand that these are in face cloud formations, ‘nuages lenticulaires’ which are typical of Mistral skies.  blogIMG_6055 (2)

At the little market by the post office we buy some tuna steaks and some large prawns, olives, pickled garlic cloves, fruit and saladstuffs.  Thus provided for we wend our way back to ‘Till’ via the bar.  I suddenly think how good it would be to have a tomato juice for a change and this becomes the first of many that I will drink during our sojourn in the south of France.

A swim before lunch is required and the sea has calmed down and the water is surprisingly clear and clean but the temperature strikes chilly.  blogIMG_6049 (2)Yet another good Mediterranean lunch is consumed with the tuna steaks being cooked to the barest minimum.

When we start to prepare our supper later on, we make the first of a number of unwelcome discoveries.  The ice box that we are using to chill wine and surplus supplies has stopped working.  blogIMG_6051 (2)It is apparently ten years old so Francois is minded to buy another.  However when we discover later in the evening that the fridge is not working either this requires some deductive thought and eventually we notice that the boat lights are somewhat dim which leads to an inspection of the boat’s batteries.  Putting this information together it appears that the batteries are not charging sufficiently to meet the electrical demands being made on the boat.  Some more fixes will be necessary.  Olivier will have to be consulted again and probably some parts will have to be ordered.  This will involve changes of plan with regard to our sailing activities.  We have already lost time for our departure from Frejus to make the crossing to Corsica, the prime objective of our three-week stay with the Tailles on their boat.  But we remain optimistic that we can cut and run and make the 18-hour crossing leaving enough time to explore Corsica, maybe even drop down to the island of Elba and still be back in Frejus by 30th June, the date for which our train tickets have been booked.  So in the meantime there is nothing for it but to clink glasses and enjoy the good food Francois has prepared for us.