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Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Clearing the decks aka pumpkin processing time

It's that time of year, to clear the windowsills to make room for seed sowing that will shortly commence. That means starting to give away/eat/compost last year's basil as I grow afresh this year..... and doing something with all the pumpkinny squash type things. I must admit they do make a cheerful decoration on the windowsills during the winter months and as they don't seem to go off any quicker in the warmth I tend to leave them here - as frankly I've got more room to store them on the windowsills than the garage which is full of spuds and apples! I also desperately need to clean the windows now as they have provided a jolly good excuse not to during the winter!

Last October, you can see the sort of things I put on
the windowsills to ripen or dry out - even the cat.

Hall windowsill - Regular and Thai basil, butternuts
and Jack Be Little pumpkins

Even the spare bedroom.... and that's NOT my choice
of decor before you say anything about the pink carpet!

The potimarrons have been eaten, as they don't last so long and they are the ones we like best roasted and eaten savoury. That leaves me with butternuts which I pulp and freeze for all things sweet and then last year's oddballs, the Jack Be Littles. I've never grown them before and never will again, as two plants just swamped a huge part of my veg patch and produced about 50+ fruit, which have taken forever to ripen. 

You can't peel the little buggers which only leaves roasting as an option, and they don't taste that brilliant that way. So I thought of baking them then scooping out the flesh to use in soup. 

Like this

Which produced this:

Hmmmm. It doesn't look very appetising and is rather stringy, which I hope will be blitzed away when I turn it into soup. I have a confession to make. This was too time consuming for very little end product so the rest of them have been given to my OH who is enjoying using them as target practice for his rifle; what's left after they've been blasted to smithereens with different kinds of bullets will be composted! (Yes I have an OH who has got into GUNS, but not for hunting I hasten to add. Target shooting is fun and I'm enjoying it too..... but hey I digress).

OK butternuts. I still have 3 left in good nick so I cooked up the ones that were starting to go wrinkly and/or rubbery. They are still perfectly good like this. I peel them, chop 'em up and boil them - they only need 10 mins if that.

Then strain and mash them up and then put in some muslin and squeeze out the excess liquid - et voila - sweet pumpkin puree ready to turn into cake or pie or muffins or whatever you fancy. I put the puree in marge tubs to freeze but first weigh the contents and mark the weight on them so I know how much is there, i.e. 500g for pumpkin pie, which just fits perfectly into a (French) marge tub.

And now ..... drum roll..... you know what I'm going to say don't you?


It just so happened that I'd made some mini pumpkin pies before Christmas and froze the excess, and have been finishing them off over the last few days :-)

I expect you want some recipes now..... well I'm very cross with a certain UK supermarket chain beginning with A because several of my fave recipes were on their site - which has now changed *rolls eyes* so my links for those recipes are lost. I have found the soup one I like reposted elsewhere, but it's been changed into Imperial American rather than the metric I prefer, but as it's soup I don't really need to worry too much about exact quantities.

Here's the pumpkin pie recipe I use:

Pumpkin Pie

shortcrust pastry using 400g flour (which is enough to line my flan dish which is 26cm x 6cm high)
500g  pumpkin puree
175g soft dark brown sugar
3 X 2.5ml spoons ground cinnamon
1 X 2.5ml spoon salt
2 X 2.5ml spoons ground ginger
1 X 2.5ml spoon grated nutmeg
the merest hint of ground cloves
3 large eggs
375ml evaporated milk

Roll out the pastry on a floured surface, and use it to line a 25cm pie or flan dish; chill in a refrigerator.
Mix the pumpkin with the sugar, cinnamon, salt, ginger, nutmeg and cloves.
Beat the eggs in another bowl, add milk and mix well.
Mix the eggs and milk into the pumpkin mixture and pour into the pastry case.
Bake in a fairly hot oven, 190°C (or Gas 5) for about 50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Serve cold with cream.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

February flowers

A bit thin on the ground, but there are plenty of signs of spring and my first tiny daffodil opened up about 5 days ago and now I have about 4 open! Some things that were in bud got a bit frosted during the recent cold snap which is a shame, but all in all it seems that spring is nice and early this year.

Tiny wee flowers on Pulmonaria

Pieris, not totally cheating as this is just in bud, but can you see
the snowdrops through it?


Hellebore, showing some frost damage

Finally, my poor Mimosa tree, which has been frosted again just as it was coming into flower. There are still a few flowers blooming up against the house wall and it smells gloriously of honey and has attracted honey bees already. But firewood it will have to be as this is now the 3rd time it has been frosted in the last 4 years and you can see how much we have had to prune out previously from frost damage. I really live in frosty hollow as other people have these trees and they don't seem to get affected like my one. Sob.

Mimosa flowers

Saturday, 25 February 2012

Clearing the stream and new life

Over the last 10 days or so, in between pruning the apple trees, I've been doing a far more enjoyable job.

It wasn't a planned job, until I went over to the orchard and looked at the stream. Or rather, looked at where the stream had disappeared in places under a mass of overgrown brambles. Quite where the hell they came from I do not know!

Well obviously there was only one thing for it - get down there in it and tidy up! Thank goodness for my nearly brand new waterproof wellies.

As well as brambles to clear there were the dead stalks of these tall umbellifers which grow in all the ditches and streams - their seed heads are really pretty and I used some in my Christmas decorations.

With thick socks on I didn't get cold feet and was enjoying this new view of my orchard and house.

I could get round the backs of the trees growing beside the stream so found early periwinkles flowering.

All the while I was kept company by the sheep in the paddock next door, and the sounds of robins and song thrushes singing, and wrens and blue tits flitting about all over the place.

I'd got this far previously and managed to finish the rest of this yesterday afternoon - there was light at the end of the tunnel as the 'bridge' (that you can't really see) was up ahead, and the end of our property boundary.

Looking back over what I'd cleared and a nicely flowing clean stream. For a while a number of blue tits came down to the shallows and bathed, but my pocket camera is not up to zooming in on them unfortunately - I only got tiny blurs! Do you like the 'rustic' sheep fence? I think it adds a certain je ne sais quoi!

Wonder how long before all the nettles and brambles start growing again?

Whilst I was working I noticed one of the pregnant ewes wombling off to the barn and didn't think anything of it. Until a little while later when I heard a lot of baaaa-ing so looked up.

Holy moly! Where did they come from?!!!!! All together now, awwwwwwww! (apologies for the rubbish photo, I am sure I will be taking tons more pics of these little babies over the next few weeks, and there should be at least one more lamb from the other ewe). Now, with my first daffodil opening the previous day, I really feel like spring has started :-)

Now the orchard jobs are finished for the time being so I can get on with all the other urgent jobs that need doing, but at least with these signs of spring it makes it so much easier to get my lazy backside up and out there and doing things!

Friday, 24 February 2012

French Friday - windows and facades

I could go to Rennes today and take hundreds of photos of beautiful windows and buildings but they do look better in summer with a casually placed geranium or two! Sadly, but such is life, most of my travelling around France was pre digital cameras so those inferior photos will probably remain forever in their albums rather than on my computer. Here are just a selection that either I or my OH have taken during the last couple of years.

Honey coloured limestone and colombage in the Dordogne department:

Monpazier, a hilltop bastide town


La Roque Gageac, on the banks of the Dordogne river

Carcassone, in the department of Aude:

Inside the medieval cite at Carcassone

The Basque country in the department of Pyrenees Atlantiques..... from the north of the department:

La Bastide Clairence

La Bastide Clairence

To the south and the foothills of the Pyrenees, on the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela:

St Jean Pied de Port

St Jean Pied de Port: the old and the new

To the coast on the Bay of Biscay:

St Jean de Luz

To the town famous for its mild chillies, which decorate the facades of the buildings:


Not forgetting the region where I live! Back in Bretagne....... from the glorious colombage and slate in Dinan:

To granite. The granite in Brittany comes in so many different colours; from warm brown tones to distinctly purple in Rennes, to very grey and austere looking, and to the pink tones of the Cote de Granit Rose.

Chateau de la Ballue, Ille et Vilaine

Harbour wall, Concarneau, Finistere

Intra Muros, St Malo, Ille et Vilaine

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Apples, one way or another

Life is all about this at the moment and it's lost its appeal. Maybe because we are on to year 8 of trying to tame our manky can(tan)kerous, way too vigourous apple trees and we are getting too old for this? Or it's just so grey and dismal every time we go into the orchard, even if it seems the sun was shining 5 minutes beforehand? Whatever, I think it's a touch of SAD plus boredom!

It's a two man job, so many tools to take over the road and someone (me) to decide what to chop off and thin out and someone to stand on the ladder base whilst the other tries to get up in the tree to do the actual work. Then you realise you can only reach a couple of the branches or twigs you wanted to cut off and have to come down again and move the heavy ladder. And all the while you are getting a rotten sore neck from all that looking up - which requires sunglasses against the bright light of the sky - which is probably why everything seems so gloomy, because then looking down at the ground it seems soooooooo dark!

I've been sending the OH up the ladder more and more, as he's got 8 inches on me and has more strength in his arms for using the loppers so I'm getting very bored standing around pointing, which is doubly hard when I have to think very hard which way is right and which is left.

I am most definitely not giving a tutorial on how to prune apple trees; suffice to say they do not grow like the book, any more than raspberries grow in a nice neat little line like the book shows or redcurrants grow into nice neat little one trunk bushes with no canes coming out of the ground like the book shows. This all makes it very difficult for a beginner as only time shows how things really grow; all I can say is that if you cut something, it will grow back with vigour, hence the next year you will have to cut again, and so it goes on. And on and on and on!

We had a break from all this over the weekend and I baked more crunchy chocolate brownie failures on Saturday for our annual winter hamlet get together. This resulted in a hasty decision on Sunday morning that I had to bake something else as I couldn't take a failure to an event where I have got a reputation for producing cake success, so with thanks to the stored apples we have, a quick fresh-ginger-and-apple-cake was produced, again proving it is failsafe, and everyone at the do seemed to like it. So is it worth all that hard work in the orchard? Look, it's six months since we started eating those apples, so in a word, YES!!!!!

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Versatile Blogger Awards

Being quite new to blogging I was really chuffed to receive one of these awards from Sara at elf sufficient! Thanks Sara!

From what I understand of it, I have to nominate others to pass this award to, then for the amount of awards I give out I have to tell you that many 'Things about me that you probably didn't know'. That's probably harder than deciding who I will pass the award on to!

I would like to nominate the following three blogs to pass the award on to - so in no particular order here they are:


Brittanygirl's blog is a blog about.... yes living in the department of 22 (Cotes d'Armor), Brittany and I love it because she takes tons of great photos, which I like to see on a blog. She sees beauty in all sorts of everyday things, and also has chickens and ducks and goats and grows veggies, so we have a lot in common!

The Part Time Smallholder

I only recently discovered that Bonnie had a blog and she is blogging for England now that she has her mojo back after a bit of a break over the winter months. I think her blog is great fun and how she has the time to do what she does with animals, veggies and flowers whilst holding down a job as well I don't know! A great read.

Chronicles of the Troll Family

This is a blog that I used to read occasionally last year and thoroughly enjoyed. Mamma Troll is nifty with her sewing machine and has a little front garden to die for, where she manages to cram in fruit, flowers and veg and it is very pretty. She has a very interesting family and I enjoy reading all about them and seeing all her photos, including seeing the photos of her older daughter who always seems to be giving me the evil eye, which makes me chuckle!

I've known all three of these lovely ladies for quite a few years now out in internet land, and all are members of forum.

And now, three things you probably didn't know about me!

1. My favourite film of all time is "The Sound of Music". The first time I saw it I was the same age as the littlest girl in it. Now I'm probably older than any member of the cast (then!) and still enjoy it as much as I did when I was a child.

2. I am quite a technophobe and resist change because I find it all rather overwhelming and hard to get my non technical head around. Even on the internet I have resisted so many things for so long. Take blogging, I just didn't 'get' it. And now years later I have started blogging myself! Facebook I had an account there years back but had no idea what I was supposed to do with it but finally have got into it! I still don't 'get' Twitter even though I have an account there and even managed to Tweet a few weeks ago. I am still trying to 'get' Google+. One day I may even have a mobile phone with a camera.... do you understand how far behind I am with everything..... lol

3. Ummmmmmm. OK just to show I am not embarassed by this. I used to be a Bay City Rollers fan and back when I was capable of sewing I even had 'The Gear'. You may laugh all you like :-)

Friday, 17 February 2012

French Friday - Villa Arnaga

I have noticed that on Google+ there seem to be a number of Friday photo themes going on, including French Friday, so in the spirit of things and as a way to show some of my photos of this beautiful country in which I live, allons-y!

Villa Arnaga, Cambo-les-Bains, Pyrenees Atlantiques

This fabulous house and garden is the former home of Edmond Rostand, author of Cyrano de Bergerac, and now a museum. The style of the house is in typical Basque architecture which is very colourful, and coupled with the garden and views, makes it impossible not to take far too many photographs of! We visited here last October whilst holidaying in the Basque country. The pictures speak for themselves.

The back of the house is just as beautiful

Enormous Plumbago showing just how mild the climate is - mine has to come indoors in winter

... and every beautiful garden has to have a peacock!


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Honey Bee on Sedum

Honey Bee on Sedum

Dewy Web

Dewy Web



Broad Bodied Chaser

Broad Bodied Chaser

Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth

Broad-bordered Bee Hawkmoth

Cats past and present

Cats past and present

Cats Past and Present

Cats Past and Present

Holly Blue Butterfly

Holly Blue Butterfly

Swallowtail Butterfly

Swallowtail Butterfly







Marmalade Hoverfly

Marmalade Hoverfly

Peacock Butterfly

Peacock Butterfly

Swallowtail Caterpillar

Swallowtail Caterpillar