Friday, March 29, 2013

Put on Your Dancin' Shoes!

Well, not exactly for dancing! These are called galoches and are a work boot worn over a regular shoe by French country folks in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The sole is made from a thick, hard piece of wood. The top, which is nailed on, is hard-tanned leather that softens (but not much!) as it laces up to above the ankle. They look mighty uncomfortable to me, but I'm sure they were very practical for the paysans working in barns and fields. Dedou remembers wearing them himself as a youth.

Look closely and you'll see a strip of iron nailed around the toe of the sole of each boot. Looks kind of like a horseshoe. My guess is this helped give the wearer a bit of traction on slippery surfaces and uneven stone floors. Be a bit careful how you talk about your galoches, though. Galoche is also a slang term for French kiss. The things one learns on Wikipedia!

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Walnut Oil

Dedou was proud to show us the restored walnut press mill on his property, Mas de Meric. Originally owned by his great grandparents and great uncle, Dedou has lovingly restored and preserved it over the past 30 years. Walnut oil was very important in this part of France during the 19th century. Great groves of trees were planted; many still exist today. Walnuts were gathered by the whole family and cracked by hand. The meats were then placed in the stone basin of this mill. Dedou told us that the top is actually one huge stone. The wheel was then pulled around the basin by a small horse, crushing the nut meats.
The mash was then cooked in this copper pot. The best quality nuts required less cooking time than the poorer quality ones.
The cooked mixture was pressed here and collected....
in a bucket.
The first pressing was the finer quality oil and used for cooking. The second time the mash was pressed, the resulting oil was used in oil lamps. The remaining mash was fed to livestock. It took about 10 kilos of nuts to produce 1 liter of oil.
Today walnut oil is still used in cooking and is a regional specialty in this part of France. I buy mine from an old lady at the Saturday afternoon market. It makes a delicious vinaigrette dressing for salad. I mix it with a little walnut-flavored vinegar I found at the grocery store, salt, pepper, and fines herbs. Then I add my secret ingredient...a bit of wild plum jam that I make myself. Yum! Guess the recipe's not so secret anymore, huh?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Bee House

I spent a fascinating afternoon yesterday on the edge of Promilhanes visiting 19th century France . This bee house or maison rucher was our goal, but the afternoon provided so much more. There will be other blog posts to follow for sure! Thanks to Maggie and Bill who live in Promilhanes, we had a private tour by their neighbor who is part of the association that bought and restored this very rare piece of French history. In fact, according to Dedou, our guide, it's the only example of its kind in the Midi-Pyrenees region. It was built as a one room house complete with fireplace. It's unknown if anyone ever actually lived there full time, but it's thought that a priest used it as a summer house when he came to check on his bees and the vineyard that surrounded it at that time. What makes this structure unusual is that its thick walls function as a hive for the bees.

Entering the walls from these odd-shaped openings on the outside (some with little terraces!), the bees were confined within the walls by wooden boxes with two levels, each having its own door on the inside...
Bee boxes from the interior of the house
Either the top or the bottom door could be opened into its own compartment. The beekeeper extracted the honey, leaving the other compartment's honey to feed the bees. He alternated boxes so to keep both the bees and himself in honey! There are fourteen of these double boxes on the interior walls of the house, divided between the ground floor and the attic.

Vanessa at Life on La Lune blogged about this rare house last year. Click here to see her photos and explanations. Since her visit, the restoration has been completed. All that remains is to hang out the 'for rent' sign and welcome bees to their 19th century home!
If you look closely, you can see at least four bee entrances in this wall. Two are to the left of the window and two are right above it.

You can visit the website of the foundation working to restore and maintain the bee house by clicking here. The text is in French, but there are some interesting photos of the house before and during restoration.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

From the Archives: Collioure

Yesterday afternoon at English class, our conversation turned to travel; travel, food, and gardening seem to be our favorite topics to discuss in either French or English! Everyone shared their favorite Mediterranean beach town. Greg loves Cannes and will spend the week after Easter there. Patricia and Daniel go to Argeles-sur-Mer every summer to camp on the beach. Cassis was also a common favorite. But everyone agreed that for charm and a nice beach, Collioure on the Cote Vermeille is the best! Made me remember my trip there in 2009. So, here you are...a couple of memories from the archives.
They're saving a seat for me!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Signs of Spring

Lucie and I noticed a few more signs of spring as we made our morning walk through the neighborhood...
Forsythia is blooming in Helen's garden along with pots of....
While Eddy and Helen are away skiing in the Alps this week, Daniel is starting on their house addition.
The Cajarc crew team has begun their spring training.
And Laury's plum tree is looking quite pretty!

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Thinking About Mary

Mary and the Baby
Tomorrow is Palm Sunday and the beginning of Holy Week. I can't help thinking about Mary. Did she know? Did she even guess when her precious Baby was born what fate awaited him? Maybe it's better not to know.

Friday, March 22, 2013

First Mow

I mowed the lawn for the first time of the season this afternoon. Which is depressing, if only because I don't remember having any nice weather that would have made the grass even grow! These light-weight plastic, electric lawnmowers are surprisingly tough and efficient. I had my doubts when I bought it, but it does the job well and is easy to use. Of course, my back yard is the size of a postage stamp, so it doesn't get a huge workout!

After I finished, I treated myself to a nice glass of rose on the terrace. Yeah....okay, so it was only 3 pm, but it's happy hour somewhere in the world, and I figure I deserved it!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

First Day of Spring

It may be the first day of spring, but the plane trees along the river in Cajarc are definitely still in winter mode.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Window Action

There's action today in my favorite Cajarc window!
Come to the carousel! Bring all your friends! Animals welcome!

If you have your volume turned 'way up, you'll be able to some sweet Cajarc birds twittering, as well as Lucie panting to continue our walk.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Happy Birthday, Christiane!

Christiane 2010
What do you get when you mix a birthday with Monday afternoon English class? Champagne and cake, of course! It's France! Today is Christiane's birthday and in honor of the occasion, Josiane brought chilled champagne, real glasses and a lemon pound cake she made to class this afternoon to properly celebrate. I didn't have my camera along...darn it! So, you'll have to trust me that we had a good time toasting our friend. How is Christiane celebrating her day? By attending what is shaping up to be a contentious meeting on a local school issue in Cajarc this evening. That's what happens when you're the assistant to the mayor in a tiny village. Bon anniversaire, Christiane!

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Wind Damage

About a month ago, my village experienced some fairly violent winds that absolutely shredded the thick plastic covering on one of Jackie's greenhouses...

This morning, Yannick and a crew of men pulled a new, heavy-duty cover over  the structure.

I hope this means there is salade in my future! Jackie has had none for the past few weeks at the Saturday afternoon market.

Friday, March 15, 2013

Remembering Basque Country

Cemetery in Bidarray
I've been remembering Basque country the past few days. I met some neighbors at an apero party Wednesday evening. Marie-Jeanne and Michel have a second home here in Cadrieu, but this was the first time I had a chance to visit with them. Michel told me that he is Basque having family that comes from both the Bearn and the Pays Basque in the Pyrenees. I was thrilled to talk with him and tell him about the adventures Edith and I had in both those places! Michel doesn't speak Basque, although his mother does. He says it's too hard...amen to that! I'm so happy  my French is finally good enough that I can carry on at least a rudimentary conversation with people. And talking with Michel brought back lovely memories of last summer's vacation exploring Basque country.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Let Us Out!

These lovelies gathered at the gate of their shed as soon as they saw Lucie and I walking on the road past their farm. I'm sure they thought we were going to let them out. Made me feel just a bit guilty when all I wanted to do was take their picture!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


I came upon this re-purposed piece of furniture up on the causse. It sits on the GR 65, a hiking trail that is also part of the chemin de Santiago de Compostelle. It contains information about a pilgrim dormitory nearby with a map giving directions. Seems like a clever way to advertise your hostel business.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Rusted Bicycle

The Rusted Bicycle
Leaned up against the stone wall of an old house on the causse, this rusted relic seemed to be basking in the warm sun. And well she deserves some moments of warmth! Don't you wonder where she's been? who she belonged to, and why they left her to rust away? How many feet have pedaled her, and how many kilometers has she traveled? If only those wheels could speak...preferably in English!

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Morning Has Broken

I knew when I looked out the back door and saw this rosy glow on the wall of the Chateau that when I opened the bedroom shutters, this is what I'd see....

I was right!

Happy Sunday!

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Duck Bones

The culminating event for the two days of doing ducks was Thursday evening's 'duck bones dinner.' Gathered around the table left to right: Helen, Eddy, Jean-Paul, Christiane (in the kitchen as usual), and Greg. Before being called 'a table,' we toasted doing ducks in front of the fireplace with a nice champagne rose and a few nibbles. Our first course was fritons made this morning and a pate of pork made from the left-over duck neck stuffing. Yummy spread on bread,

The carcasses
Everyone took a carcass and began picking and pulling off the cold meat
My carcass
Did you know that in France it's good manners to just put your bread directly on the table? The plate you see is for gnawed duck bones and pieces of gristle.

Once the carcasses were picked clean, a big bowl of salad was passed, followed by a cheese course. We finished dinner with a platter of freshly sliced pineapple and some great sticky molasses bars that Helen made.

Here's my take on duck bones: eating them is a lot of effort for not very much meat. I think the fun of the evening is in the camaraderie and the wine!

Many 'merci beaucoups' to Christiane and her faithful helper, Jean-Paul for an enjoyable and very interesting two days of doing ducks!

Friday, March 8, 2013

The Second Day

The pieces and parts, including the skin and fat, from Wednesday's ducks were our focus on Thursday. Christiane made a rub of coarse salt, freshly ground pepper and a variety of fresh and dried herbs which we rubbed over all the duck parts on Wednesday before we called it a day. The first thing we did on Thursday was to wipe it off the pieces and pat them dry.

Duck parts
Some of the fat and skin
Jean-Paul took a big pan of the fat and skin to the garage and began melting it on a small gas stove. While the fat was rendering, we stuffed the skin of the neck with a pork mixture seasoned with a splash of cognac and a splash of Armagnac. Then we tied off one end and stitched the other closed with waxed string. Once again, Greg's surgical skills shone brightly as he 'sutured' the neck...

Once the fat was melted, all the parts including the stripped carcasses were cooked for an hour and a half. We returned at noon to put them all in jars. Christiane added 2 ladles of melted fat to each jar, we sealed them, and they went into the big processing pot to process for another hour.
Christiane moves so fast it's hard to get a photo of her in action without a blur!
The jars are wrapped/padded with dishcloths to keep them from rattling, and some flat stones are placed on top to keep them from floating.
Jean-Paul filling the big processing pot with water.
I picked up my jars today. The three large ones hold the stuffed neck, the legs, and one has mixed pieces...wings, gizzard and parts of the back. Two of the small jars are duck fat for use in frying potatoes, vegetables and meat. The top small jar is pate. I also have a small jar of fritons in the 'fridge. Fritons are bits of duck and some fat that Christiane skimmed out of the melted fat pot and put through a food processor. It's used like pate to spread on bread or crackers.

I have one more piece of the 'doing ducks' story to share. That's for tomorrow, so please come back!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Doing Ducks

Christiane and Greg
**Warning** If you are a vegetarian or opposed in principle to the feeding of ducks for foie gras, you may want to skip this post!

Yesterday was in 'doing ducks' Christiane's. She was gracious enough to allow Greg and I to do ducks with her and learn the process. We processed 5 ducks altogether; two for each of them and one for me. I did posts on making foie gras and confit the first winter I spent here. Click here, here, and here if you're interested in those. I'm not going to repeat the entire process here...just the highlights

We began with a huge basin full of ducks. These ducks are locally raised here, and our neighbor, Didier, had just killed them that morning. They were still warm. I'm certainly not squeamish, but warm dead ducks did have a bit of an 'ick' factor!
Here are the livers which we had to clean of blood vessels, as well as the thin connective fibers in them.
Here you see Greg cleaning one of his livers. His were done so neat and tidy, while mine looked like they'd been severely beaten. Okay, but in Greg's other life, he was an oral surgeon; I expect him to have a delicate touch!
Liver pieces packed in jars for processing.
These are duck parts that will become confit. They're cooked in fat, then placed in jars. Christiane then put in two ladles of melted duck fat. They're processing as I write this.
Maigrets or duck breasts. Mine are in the freezer.

We started about 9:30 am and finished for the day at 1:00 pm. I went home and promptly took a nap, exhausted! Let me just say that dismembering a duck is a lot harder work than I thought it would be.Or maybe it was the two glasses of wine we drank when we finished?
Our reward for a hard morning's work. We ended up with 18 jars of foie gras. Here you see my jars which are now safely tucked away in my cupboard. There's more to the story, though, so check back!