Monday, September 29, 2008

AT LAST..... GARDENING IN FRANCE... AND MORE EATING AND LAUGHING

image After visiting Sarah, the next stop has been Ian and Sylvia's, near Bergerac, where I have been staying for the weekend. It has been just so lovely and in between eating, chatting and visiting wonderful neighbours, Ian and I have actually got some gardening done - the first since I left home nearly 2 weeks ago.

We cleared out the pumpkin patch, planted leeks and spring onion seedlings from the Villereal market, broccoli and fennel seedlings Ian has raised and enlarged the bed by another third....soon it will rival Villandry!

It seems quite unreal gardening in blogland, and seeing all the things Ian talks about on his blog, including the Saturday visit to the Villereal market and a stop in to Bernard's to buy his 2004 Monbazillac.

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image We have spent quite some time with a French couple who live just down the street and they are such fun and so kind, cooking special Perigord dishes for me for dinner at their house on Saturday night and showing me around their vegetable garden as well as a wonderful slide show of Michel's beautiful wildlife photos that Ian regularly posts on his blog.

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I tried a cocktail that Michel made which Marie-Sylvie assured me was not too alcoholic..... luckily I didn't believe her!

We had so many courses I lost count...so see Ian's post for details!....aperitifs, amazing garlic soup, delectable confit de canard, local organic vegetables, cheeses to die for etc etc and an apple pie I made for them. We had so many laughs and it was incredible and I thank them all very much.

Ian and I went early to the Villereal market and started by having coffee and croissants as of course one must when in France....very nice. The market fills a square which is surrounded by shops, and spills out onto the streets. It is just as I imagined from Ian's photos.... picturesque, down to earth, authentic, friendly and fun.


Villereal Market....
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I was so lucky to have Ian and Sylvia take me to visit another neighbour, Gabriel, who grows vegetables, fruit trees and ornamental plants and is a man with an affinity with his land, his life and the health of the body and soul. I didn't take any photos.... it just didn't seem appropriate. He speaks a broad dialect but made a real effort to speak so I could understand, which surprisingly, I mostly did....as it was all to do with propagating and growing vegetables and fruit in his own wonderful way.... The quality of his produce was exceptional and from his vegetable patch we could see 35kms in one direction down the rolling land of the valley to Chateau Biron. and 55kms another to...... He grows a lot of tomatoes in polytunnels, and he gave us one which weighed 500g, which we are going to have for breakfast tomorrow. It was so special to listen to him telling me so much, in French, there in the south of France, and to see in his eyes his passion for all the things I too care about. Like Richard, in Singapore, Gabriel is connected and in tune with himself and all about him.

Tonight I am cooking mussel risotto for Sylvia and Ian..... starting right now!

As always, there are more photos on the link.They will have captions soon....hopefully before I go to bed tonight!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

VISITING SARAH

image It is sometimes quite astounding how people come to meet and after just a few minutes you can feel like you have known each other for ages. This was the case with Sarah, a woman Ian took me to meet a few days ago. She has moved to France from England and has bought a lovely little cottage with lots of space for a vegetable garden, in the French countryside. image

 

Sarah hasn't grown vegetables or anything much else before but now she has started a box system and provides vegetables for several other families and is building it up all the time. She has taken a leap and is now trusting her cape.....a little phrase that has become central to how I think, lately.

 

 

imageWe looked around the vegetable garden, which is bounded on one side by one of these beautiful fields of sunflowers that are around every corner in this part of France. We sat inside and ate a lunch she kindly made us with things from her garden, with the sun streaming through the windows, and the road just outside the door....no cars went by while we were there. And anyway, in the back streets of France the roads are so narrow people just potter along, on the whole.

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Sarah has found a connection and is making it work. She has removed herself from the ratrace and made a little space to absorb a more tranquil life. Like me, she has discovered slow and all the good things that come with it. We found so much in common.....me, an Australian woman travelling to see other people in the slow lane and Sarah, just doing it, out there in rural France.

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Sarah belongs to Gardeners' Calendar

It was really lovely to meet you Sarah and I hope we can keep in touch.

TOTAL DECADENCE

The other night I had a dessert that was nothing short of total decadence. I don't know what came over me to order it because, as I love only the rich, dark, bitter chocolate made by our local Haighs, I never normally choose chocolate things when I am out as they are always disappointing in comparison...But I am in France and they take food very, very seriously...

The menu I translated loosely simply as profiteroles with mint something and a hot chocolate sauce. It was 3 small profiteroles filled with a smooth, lightly minty icecream and the whole thing smothered in a chocolate sauce that can only be described as black, it was soooo dark. What was amazing was how they got the icecream inside the profiteroles and at the same time kept the profiteroles crisp and perfect even after having hot chocolate sauce poured over them! The sauce was like Haighs chocolate, rich but not sweet, thick and  melted and concentrated and heated and poured in lashings over the profiteroles and the whole plate!

It was one of those eating experiences that leaves you thinking where you have been all your life not to have had it before!!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

VILLANDRY

I haven't had access to wifi for days and I have so much to say now......and to show you....

I took a trip to the Chateau Villandry and discovered a nice little cottage with a few vegetables growing out the back.... thought I might move in.... see what you think...

image There are 9 sections, displaying 9 magnificent collections of vegetables, each colour coordinated and every plant perfect. I wonder if they would notice if I put up a tent and slept under the pear trees?
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Check the photos link for LOTS more photos...

 

FOOD IS A FRENCH WORD.....

imageTours is a beautiful town in the Loire Valley, with narrow, quaint streets full of tiny shops displaying exquisite things like these pastries. Eat your heart out Maggie!

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There is a violin maker, lots of cafes with only a few tables inside and a couple outside in the sun and a few restaurants of different cuisines, like this Japanese one, amongst other small shops. I thought it was very amusing to see a Japanese restaurant, with its menu in French! There are colourful window boxes with geraniums cascading over, naturally enhancing the white stonework of the buildings, as in the photo, below right.

 

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Food ....beautiful, artisan, carefully presented, forms the basis of French life and I can see I am going to have to spend a lot of time eating while I am here, in order to properly research French food.....

 

There are more photos in the link.

 

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

TODAY IN THE BACK STREETS OF IFFLEY.....

Oxford is known as a university town but I would call it the town of bike riders.Same goes for Iffley. I have only ever seen more people riding bikes in Asia! The tiny front entrance of every house seems to display at least one and often several bikes.....every street is lined with people on bikes and the path by the river today was a constant stream of families on bikes. It is beautiful. There is not a weight problem in Oxford because of all the bike riding and Alex is going to fit right in as he loves to ride his bike everywhere.

Iffley, in autumn is the town of berries! Everywhere there are berries. I saw a man picking some blackberries but I hadn't realised the significance at the imagetime so have no photo.image image

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Iffley has some people who are into the whole local, food-growing, organic thing.....

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Oxford and Iffley, in particular, are stunningly picturesque.....

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Check out the rest of the photos that I have been updating daily......Oxford....

Sunday, September 21, 2008

BLOGGERS DAY IN OXFORD

image They arrived in dribs and drabs, as bloggers are want to do, and there were laughs and introductions and handshakes as faces and blogs were paired, like playing snap! Talk was of posts, vegetables, comments and the weather - which was warm and sunnier than the whole rest of summer put together, evidently. There were about 15 people in all. We moved the chairs outside, some seeking the sun, some the shade.....actually it was like a cool spring day in Adelaide but the locals thought it was quite hot! The Oxford Botanic Gardens have lawns that any Australian would die for....soft, fine,dense, brilliant green.....heavenly.

 

 

image There was a bloke there with no blog! He turned out to be Ben, the guest speaker from Real Seeds and what an absolutely lovely bloke. He spoke about the importance of seedsaving....much along the lines of the thing I wrote called 'Sowing the Seeds of Civilisation' and cleverly used a string time line and pegs to illustrate where we have come from and what devastation lies ahead if we don't take care of our seeds. He even said that seed companies should only sell each type of seeds once to each customer, after that the grower should save them for themselves.....not bad for a bloke whose job it is to sell seeds! His passion for biodiversity is paramount. Most of these bloggers don't save seeds and that was a bit of a surprise to me, seeing as how all the people in Adelaide I know do try to save seeds and it is just a part of what we do; a part of growing food and treading lightly on the earth. I hope they will think more about it after hearing Ben's wonderful talk.

image Then Patrick spoke on his passion for growing garlic....he is growing 100 varieties and has 1000 plants....and that is a lot of garlic!! Needless to say he brought lots to give away and I have some now to give to the people in France who I will be visiting soon. It was so good to meet Patrick...he is a little different to what I expected...but who isn't, in blogland?image

Next Simon spoke about the changing face of allotment gardens and about his shed and his love of sitting there, outside his shed, and having a chat with other gardeners.....and he even has written some poems about it. He feels connected to the history of the place and all the other people who have gardened in what is temporarily his space, for longer than white people have lived in Australia. All this is a side I hadn't thought about before because in Australia we are focused on the produce more than the history..... and as more people take up plots like Simon's because of talk of food miles and peak oil and chemicals, the less emphasis the history and the vibes and the connections there may be and the more the plots may become a commodity. Nothing is what it seems, in life, and I really enjoyed hearing what Simon had to say and would like to talk more with him and for him to show me his plot.

image We set up rugs under the trees and shared our lunch...it was great to eat tomatoes from Patrick's garden....it is that whole connection thing and the fact that I haven't had a home-grown tomato since the end of our last summer, about March! There we all were, most having never met before, talking and laughing like old friends because everyone has a blog and everyone reads at least some of the other blogs....even this one!image

 

 

 

 

image Back inside we shared our seeds and plants and I have quite a selection to now take to France and I gave away some of our seeds ....soon Joy's cos, Kathy's celery, my chrysanthemum greens, the Bari cucumber and Cath's capsicums etc etc will hopefully be growing in gardens and greenhouses around England and in Amsterdam. And some of Wilson's tropical beans will grace the greenhouses in gardens far and wide.

Along with many other people out to enjoy the sunshine, we wandered around the Botanic gardens and it was interesting to see what what worthy of note to people from these colder climates. Succulents were individually displayed in the glasshouses along with many plants we would consider very ordinary! Nobody seemed interested in the cottage gardens and that wonderful winding pathway of lawn with not a blade missing!! But everyone was interested in the vegetables and I was totally astounded at the size of the rhubarb leaves and stems!image

After most people had left, some of us went and got a coffee at a cafe across the road (which badly needs lessons in making a decent coffee.....but the lemon cake was good!) and then later, Patrick, Steph and I had dinner and got to know each other better which was lovely. All this....just because of blogs and vegetables.....who would have thought....image

 

 

 

 

 

Look Wilson, look what I found growing in Oxford!!

 

 

I am off now to do some washing as I have been away for almost a week and that is the limit of my clothes, which fit nicely into what most people carry onto a plane as hand luggage....it is just the electronics that are cramping my minimalist approach to travel! Here is the list of the all the bloggers  that came yesterday.....

Bifurcated Carrots

Vegplotting

Spadework

The Plot Thickens

Fluffetus Muppetus

Soilman

Manor Stables Vegetable Plot

Mustardplaster

Daughter of the Soil 

Real Seeds