Sunday, 29 November 2009

Thank Heavens for George and the Tractor

I set off in the merc yesterday morning in search of parsnips for Christmas lunch (note the forward planning - not my usual behaviour at all).  Parsnips to the French tend to be something to feed to animals, so I wanted to make sure I could get some in the local Saturday morning market before (if necessary) setting off further afield.

Tod was feeling frail (late night on Friday playing bridge) and Vita was being bouncy so I packed her in the car to leave Tod in peace thinking it would be good for her to wander round the market with me. In the confusion of collecting dog, lead, shopping bags, car keys, I'd driven half way up our chemin to the road at the top when I realised I'd forgotten the handle that I wanted to take into the local Brico store to find some special screws it needed. 

So I reversed back down the chemin - dog bouncing in back, watching out for the ditches on both sides, carefully avoiding our postbox, mesmerised by the black metal gate post - when there was a horrible crunch and the car sagged.  I climbed out to find the back right-side wheel hanging in mid air over the deep hole where the drainage under the chemin emerges before it runs off down Serge's field.

So back down to the cottage, feeling foolish, dog in tow, to ask Tod how frail he was feeling and whether he could help. Looking at how the car was balanced over the hole, all its weight on the (very flat) back left tyre, we decided we needed George's expert help (again!).

Fortunately Tod had discovered the secret of getting our tractor going. It took George a couple of determined tugs on his tow rope - tractor wheels grinding in the mud - and the merc jerked back onto the chemin with a flat tyre but otherwise unscathed.

That's three of us now who've been in the ditch. (Breakdown assistance.)  I was too embarrassed to take photos.

George went off to the bank. Tod and Vita went back for a snooze. I took the Batmobile and got the parsnips and the screws for the handle.  Could have been a lot worse!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

What Fun!

Tod's bought a second-hand tractor.

It will be useful for taming the bits and pieces of rough land that we've got.

At least it will be when we can get it going.  It's being temperamental and even George (who is our source of advice on all things technical) is struggling to get it to behave.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Vita gets a Bath

What is it about Airedales?  Their gene pool includes Otter Hound, you would have thought they would like water.

Clara used to hate getting her feet wet so much she would walk round puddles.

As for Vita, I've just hauled all 20-something kilos across the bathroom (all four legs spread out, clamped to the floor) struggling to get her into the shower.

She found a very dead mole, which she rolled in and then walked round proudly holding in her mouth.  She then wanted to come and tell us how good she smelt.

I think I'm wetter than she is and the bathroom seems to have water up to the ceiling.  But at least she doesn't smell so rank.

I think she's now in the garden searching for something else to roll in so that she smells like any self-respecting dog ought to again.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Last Night I made Pasta

I have a juicing machine with which I have a love/hate relationship: love the juice, hate getting all the little bits of fruit gunk out of the cone-sieve-thingy once I've used it.  So the juicer gets used for a couple of mornings and then sits on the side for months until I have another "must eat more healthily" fit.

Anyway, this much neglected juicer - which I have had for at least three years - comes with another cone (a smooth one) and a special nozzle for making pasta, which I've never tried.  Until yesterday.

I read up about making pasta dough on the internet and it looked easy.  Pile a heap of flour on the work surface, add some salt, make a well in the middle, drop two eggs in and using your fingers gradually mix the flour into the eggs.

Firstly, I finished up with most of the dough stuck between my fingers and spent several minutes scraping it all off and back onto the work surface.

Secondly, I think our work surface is not meant for making dough.  It's slightly textured and the dough formed a fine film, nicely filling up the dents in the worktop.  By this stage the dough would have been excellent for grouting bathroom tiling.

I persevered, having read that one has to put considerable effort into making pasta dough and gradually it formed something approaching a squidgy, springy ball, which I popped into the fridge to rest.

Having assembled the juicer/now pasta maker, I took the springy dough, cut it into chunks and fed it into the top of the machine, switched the machine on and using the plunger pushed the dough towards the nozzle.  To my delight, three thin pasta worms started to emerge and curl into the bowl I had waiting underneath.  This quickly got out of hand as the curly worms kept on coming and I could see there would be no way I could separate them as they formed their Gordian knot.

Some of the internet articles suggested hanging the pasta over a broom handle to dry.  I balanced a rolling pin between a tall glass and the wine cooler, found some scissors and started again. Push dough through until it's a sensible length; switch off machine; cut off three pasta worms; hang them over rolling pin; start machine and repeat.

The thin strands of dough hanging over the rolling pin had rather a strange grey tinge.  It reminded me of when I was very young and the colour of the tarts I used to make with bits of left-over dough from my mother's baking. Mind you, I had nice clean hands and the work surface looked quite shiny.

By this time it was getting late and the large saucepan of ready-boiling salted water was half empty.  So I decided we'd do without the drying stage and just tipped the pasta into the water to boil.

There are times when Tod's irresistible urge to get involved in my cooking proves useful.  He started stirring the pasta and noticed that each bunch of three pasta worms was staying firmly stuck together.  They were cooking along the edges but remaining stubbornly raw in the middle.  So with much "ouching" we fished around in the boiling water, lifted out bundles of pasta, pulled the three strands apart, dropped each individual strand back and fished around for the next ones.

Amazingly, in the end, when thoroughly covered in spicy Breton sausage, tomato and veg sauce, the pasta tasted quite good.

Next time I'll forget the hand mixing and use my multi-mixer with its dough hooks.  I'll also see if I can find hard durum flour in the Bio shop and not the soft supermarket flour that the French love.  I might try adding some tomato, or maybe even black squid ink to the dough (just to hide any suspicion of grey).  And I'll hope that Tod's around to help me separate the pasta worms before they go in the boiling water.

There will be a next time.  The pasta cone and nozzle are really easy to clean.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Friday Afternoon

With the cottage we rushed round buying things at the last minute.  For the house we plan to be more organised and are already getting ideas for the kitchen.

So Friday afternoon we went to Cuisinella in Villeneuve and spent two hours looking at façades, worktops, taps and playing around with ideas for a layout.  We made a good start and left later than we'd intended.

We had an appointment at the house with the builder at five and hurried to get back. Along the empty roads that cross the Lot and Garonne valleys, no one behind and the road ahead totally clear, it is all too easy to speed at more than the legal 90 kilometres an hour.  And then we saw the flash; a roving police radar trap hidden behind bushes waiting for the Friday afternoon dash home.  And we thought they only did it to annoy tourists in the summer!

Bizarre.  On the main roads you are politely told with a sign whenever there is a fixed camera ahead, giving you time to slow down, but there's no warning of the roving traps, other than (if you're lucky) a quick flick of headlights from the occasional car coming towards you.

Ah well.  No doubt the letter will be in the post this week with points on the license and a fine.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Walk before Breakfast

Thud of Vita's paws as she races to catch up with me across the sodden ploughed field.

Swish of my boots through the long grass.

Splash and gurgle of water flowing out of the ditch into the stream at the bottom of the valley.

Angry chatter of a wren from the hazel bushes.

Distant cock crow, bark of dog and hum of occasional car speeding along the ridge.

Snuffle and snort from Vita as she buries her nose into holes and crevasses between the clumps of wet grass.

The crunch of our feet on the loose grit of the recently-repaired lane that climbs up between Monsieur F's two fields.

The snort of the horse in the field at the top and a sharp "Leave it!" from me as Vita shows too much interest.

The "pop, pop" of a distant shot in the woods on the far side of the valley.

The murmur of the Today Programme on the radio as we come back in the front door and the welcoming sound of the kettle coming up to the boil.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

And Now the House

The blog about the cottage has nearly run its course.

The cottage has become our home for a while. And now it's the turn of the house to be renovated.

I thought I wouldn't be blogging about the house renovation, but I am, as I find there is a story to tell here too. If you would like to follow it, this is the link ...

And Now the House

Driving Home

Sunday week ago I drove the merc to the UK. About 800 miles. Alone.

Tod worried about my going, the age of the car and three of the tyres losing pressure during the journey. So I had the pump that you run off the cigarette lighter in the back. Just in case.

Driving up through France on motorways is easy (unless it's a bank holiday). Most of the time it's clear road in front and maybe one or two cars coming up behind in the rear mirror. I worry sometimes that I don't concentrate enough. With so little traffic and the car on cruise control, my eyes drift off the road searching for distant chateaux or river views or flocks of birds.

I came up through Normandy. With its black-beamed, steep-roofed white houses it felt like another country. I stayed in a small hotel that claimed to be in an orchard, but omitted to mention the road in front. The lorries going up to the ports started at five in the morning and I reminded myself that half the excitement of travelling is the sleeping arrangements.

I worried about remembering which side of the road to drive on in the UK, as I'm used to being on the kerb side with our right-hand drive merc here in France. I need not have worried. From the moment I drove off the Eurotunnel train I was hemmed in by vehicles. There was nothing to do but get in line with the cars in front and behind. And over the week, as I drove round the South East so it continued, from Folkestone, to Henley, to Wimbledon, to Sussex, to Folkestone.

I think the English countryside was glorious, with sunlight filtering through rich autumn colours, but I barely saw it as most of the time I had my eyes glued on the brake lights of the cars in front.

On my return journey, as I left the train I panicked that I had missed the turning for Paris. The road was empty, I was in total darkness and I could not believe that there would be so little traffic going my way. But I was fine.

I loved my week in the UK. It was good to catch up with friends. But it was even better to be driving, alone in the dark, through the French countryside. Driving home.