Tough love for our wisteria

This past spring, the wisteria vines at the front of our house in Daglan grew leaves like champions, but failed to flower. What could have gone wrong?

The answer, according to a French friend of ours with substantial local knowledge, was that we had failed to prune the vines the previous autumn. So now that October is here, the days are getting shorter, and the nights are getting colder, we decided to follow her advice.

First, here’s a look at the wisteria (glycines, in French) just before we attacked them with pruning shears:

A great crop of leaves.

Giving true tough love to these plants — cutting back all but the main horizontal branches —  was a bit daunting for my wife Jan and me. But one creature who enjoyed the process tremendously was our cat Souci.

(I’ll be posting about Souci in due course, with an entry that I think will be called “The cat who came in from the cold.” Watch for it!)

In any case, Souci loved diving into the piles of cut branches on the street and in our garage, and sticking her head under them as they fell to the ground. Here she is walking along our street, with leaves scattered about:

Souci takes a look at the pruning.

And here she is, really getting into the work (or at least, under it):

She’s under the branches.

And when all the pruning was done, what did we have? As you can see, some pretty sparse vines:

Quite a difference, eh?

Will the tough love pay off? Will we be rewarded with long strings of flowers next spring? We’ll just have to wait and see. You too.

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Two takes on the Viognier grape

In the last exciting instalment of Radio Free Daglan, I described a shopping trip that my wife Jan and I made to Bergerac. I went on to show off a lunch of crayfish gumbo (jambalaya, if you will) that Jan made for our Sunday lunch. Then I left readers hanging, with this dramatic closing:

And what, pray tell, did we drink with the jambalaya? Well, think Yalumba for a starter. And more will be revealed in my next posting.

Just to get technical for a moment: That was what we bloggers like to call a “hook” — a literary device to drag back readers for more. And now that you’re all back, let us get on with the Yalumba story.

It turns out that Yalumba is the name of the oldest family-owned winery in Australia, located in the Barossa Valley region. And several bottles of  a Viognier by Yalumba were among our purchases last Saturday at the Bergerac wine store known as the comptoir des vignes.

Viognier is actually one of the two white wines that Jan and I buy regularly at the Julien de Savignac wine store in Sarlat (the other being Parallele 45, a blended white wine — 20% of which happens to be Viognier — produced by Paul Jaboulet Ainé in the Rhône Valley).

The Viognier and the Parallele have become sort of our house wines, because they are light and easy-drinking; they go well with food, but they’re also very drinkable on their own.

In the interest of extending a bit beyond the habitual, on Saturday we bought a different Viognier from the south of France. Here’s the bottle:

Very much in the French style.

To my palate, both our “regular” French Viognier and this Gérard Bertrand version are in a typical French style — they’re light, refreshing, with only hints of flowers and fruits.

By contrast, the 2015 Yalumba Viognier we bought (and had with our jambalaya lunch) was dramatic and powerful.  It’s from Yalumba’s Y Series, and here’s how the bottle looks:

A pretty tasty, wonderful wine.

Usually, I find winemakers’ descriptions of their wines over the top — I have a lot of trouble tasting the tastes they describe, or smelling the aromas they list. But I have to say that Yalumba’s description (on the front label) seems accurate. Here it is:

“Honeysuckle and jasmine aromas set the scene for an exotic blend of stone fruit, lemongrass and ginger flavours. This silky white is nothing short of delicious.”

And for both Jan and me, the wine seemed just about the perfect match for our rather peppery crayfish jumbo. In fact, I’d say that this wine would probably be great with other spicy foods, like Thai or Indian. So, it’s goodbye Riesling and Gewürztraminer, and hello, Yalumba Viognier.

Final notes: In case you were wondering, the name Yalumba comes from an indigenous Australian word for “all the land around.” And if you have any more time remaining, and sufficient interest, have a look at Yalumba’s website. It has some of the most interesting writing on wines that I’ve found. Very enjoyable.

 

 

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Lovely day, tasty follow-up

I shall  begin by stating that I love the name Yalumba. How exotic can you get! Does it refer to an African war cry? A South American river? A region of Australia? No matter: I love the name. But more on that later, as I now turn to the topic at hand (even if it was a few days ago).

The fact is that this past Saturday was a lovely day. (So was Sunday, and so was Monday, and so was Tuesday. But surely that’s not the point right now. And don’t call me Shirley.)

On Saturday, the sky was that vibrant bright blue that often blankets the Greater Daglan Area in October. My aqua fitness class in the morning was excellent. The lamb curry lunch that my wife Jan had  prepared was excellent. And then we were off for a shopping trip to Bergerac. It was all, shall we agree, excellent.

We were headed to Bergerac to shop at two places I’ve mentioned before — a wine shop that sells wines from outside our region (Hurrah!) and a food store that sells stuff you just can’t normally get in our local supermarkets. (See “Bergerac: A few good reasons [to visit],” posted September 7.)

Here’s my comment on the wine shop, from that blog posting:

I’ve found a wine store in [Bergerac] that doesn’t focus on local wines. There were shelves with wines from all parts of France (clearly marked and well organized) and — get this — wines from other countries. Yes, countries that most French wine merchants have never heard of, like Italy and Australia. As you can imagine, Jan and I are planning a major dual-purpose shopping trip, to Grand Frais and the comptoir des vignes.

So that’s where we went on Saturday, the wine store and the Grand Frais market. I’ll come back to the wine later, but here’s why we were so excited to be shopping at Grand Frais — a chance to buy the ingredients for “crawfish gumbo,” as our recipe calls it. (Personally, I would say “crayfish gumbo,” or just jambalaya.)

And when we got home, Jan started preparing the sauce. The starting point was chopping up these veggies:

Veggies form the base of the sauce.

Then, Jan made a roux of butter and (gluten-free) flour, and cooked it thoroughly, until it was a fairly dark brown. Next she added the veggies shown above, a couple of tins of chopped tomatoes, and quite a lot of water, plus a variety of spices, including cayenne pepper.

To finish the sauce, Jan cooked it all down until it was a bit reduced, and then added slices of okra — an ingredient we have found only at Grand Frais. Here’s the okra, going into the pot:

Did you know? Okra in French is gumbo. Yes!

On Sunday, Jan finished the dish — adding the seafood that we bought at Grand Frais, including crayfish from Louisiana (how amazing is that!) as well as shrimp. Here’s the seafood, ready to hit the sauce:

Crayfish — all the way from Louisiana!

And so, for Sunday lunch, we had this crayfish gumbo, which is quite spicy (because of the cayenne pepper) and really delicious when served over rice, which is how Jan served it. Here’s my plate:

All set for me to dig in.

And what, pray tell, did we drink with the jambalya? Well, think Yalumba for a starter. And more will be revealed in my next posting.

I can hardly wait!

 

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Going, going, but not gone (summer 2017)

October in the Greater Daglan Area is not my favourite month (that would be September), but it’s close. In October, we are technically in autumn, but hints of summer remain.

In October, we seem to have two kinds of weather: Skies can be stunningly blue, or they can be grey and rainy.

Yesterday (Thursday) was one of the sunny ones. In the morning, after I had a haircut in Castelnaud, I enjoyed a coffee on the terrace of La Plage, basking in warm sunshine and reading the international edition of the New York Times.

In the late afternoon, my wife Jan and I were there again for drinks. And the sky was brilliant, and the sun was pouring down.

Here’s the view upwards toward the Château Castelnaud, with the sky looking a bit more hazy in this photograph than in real life:

The château above us.

After our drinks, we headed back towards Daglan, but decided to detour to the holiday home of friends of ours on a hill above our village, to pluck figs from their trees. (Our friend hates figs, so we are free to pluck.) While Jan plucked, I shot this photo of a shrub with bright orange berries, against the stone wall of a nearby house:

Bright orange berries and a stone wall.

And to show the strength of the sunshine coming down, even in the relatively late afternoon, here’s another photo:

Late afternoon sun lights up these leaves.

What about today? Pretty much a repeat performance: Once the early morning mist cleared away, the sky was bright and blue, and the day was wonderfully pleasant. Here’s another photo, of flowers at the village déchetterie:

Yellow flowers, blue sky.

Of course we are into autumn; the leaves of Virginia creeper are turning red; some tree leaves are dropping; and we now have a fire going in our log burner at night. But hey — we can live with all that.

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Glimpses of Milan Fashion Week

Yes, my wife Jan and I are back in Daglan after a vacation in Milan. And no, we hadn’t planned the trip to coincide with Milan Fashion Week, which ended yesterday (September 25). It just sort of happened.

We had a similar experience a few years ago in France’s capital, when our visit there coincided with part of Paris Fashion Week. What I was able to observe there, as we walked along the Rue du  Faubourg Saint-Honoré (“Luxury’s Stronghold”), heading for dinner, were (a) beefed-up security at the entrances to all the luxury shops, and (b) some very strangely made-up women and men.

In Milan, we did see quite a few young women, in a variety of settings (hotel lobbies, bars, restaurants), who appeared to be models, or at least aspiring models. But it seemed somewhat rude to start taking photos of them.

But to brighten this posting, I am able to offer just one photo, that was taken by Jan. It’s a dramatic shot of a mature male model, striding ever so smartly through the Piazza del Duomo. Here he is:

Wait — that’s me in the photo shoot!

Wait a minute — that’s me! Sorry about that. At least there is a touch of fashion in the photo, in that I’m wearing my new blue cotton pullover, that I had bought in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II.

Well, okay — I can include another photo. It’s a close-up of a huge display of jewelry in the Galleria:

Interested in some (very) large jewelry?

Now to show that I take research for this blog seriously, I can confirm that I’ve spent a fair amount of time today with the Telegraph online.

I was reviewing such photo features as “The best street style from Milan Fashion Week,” “The choicest and maddest catwalk looks from Milan Fashion Week,” and in-depth coverage of the Green Carpet Fashion Awards, featuring pieces from the collections of Giorgio Armani, Salvatore Ferragamo, Stella McCartney, Versace, and Gucci.

With this extensive research behind me, I can now confirm that I am able to recognize Anna Wintour, at a glance. (And if you need to ask who she is, then like wow —  fashion is definitely not your thing.)

Aside from all the Telegraph coverage, here are a few personal observations of mine:

It’s all in the face. Based on the models we observed, I’d say the “right” facial expression is a combination of bored, vacant, and sullen. On the plus side, the young women did seem fascinated with their smart phones. And of course, they are actually beautiful.

Lettuce anyone? Describing the young women generally as slender doesn’t quite capture it. If anyone can exist on a lettuce-only diet, I’d say that young models would be right up there.

Legs, and more legs. Not only were the models almost uniformly tall, their height seemed to be made up mostly in their legs. Wow — there were some very long, slender legs on show.

Hijacking. An evident side-effect of  all the glamour is the ability of hotels to jack up their rates during the week. On the first day of Fashion Week (Monday) the night rate for our downtown hotel went up by 150 euros from the day before. And note: That’s not the rate; that’s the increase in the daily rate. This may be a good reason to check on special events (conferences, shows) when planning your next trip to a major city.

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Not Naples, but pretty darn good

We’re back home in Daglan after several days in Milan, which according to Google Maps is some 770 kilometres from Naples. I mention this because Naples is generally regarded as the home of the “modern” pizza (that is, pizza as we know it, with tomato sauce and various toppings).

So obviously, we weren’t in Milan specifically for the pizza. However, Milan is indeed in Italy, and so while we were in the city I had to try at least one of their pies.

My wife Jan and I were in the northern Italian city with Toronto friends Rob and Darlene.  One day the four of us visited a casual spot called Granaio, which is located roughly between the Teatro alla Scala (Milan’s famed opera house) and the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II (the world’s oldest shopping mall and a showcase for luxury goods). Here’s the restaurant’s window:

Our lunch place, from the outside.

The beauty that I chose was called the Tacco d’Italia, and featured a fairly thick crust (apparently that’s the Milanese style) with tomato sauce, incredibly creamy burrata buffalo mozzarella, and (best of all) several large blobs of ‘Nduja, a spicy, spreadable pork salumi. For 11 euros, this was the large platter I was served:

Spicy, gooey, and all good.

It really was spicy, and I enjoyed nearly all of it, although the crust finally defeated me, as you’ll see:

The outer crust: The end for me and my appetite.

Would I have enjoyed a traditional thin-crust pizza from Naples even more? I may never know, but I do know that I loved my Milanese pie. (And the thought of having another pizza here in the Greater Daglan Area is not, at this point, warming the cockles of my heart.)

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A touch of spring in autumnal Daglan

We are just back from a vacation in Milan (you know, the big city in northern Italy), about which I’ll be blogging in due course. But first, a note on the weather here in Daglan, and a colourful surprise.

Apparently the weather has been pretty miserable here since we were away. Gray, rainy and cool sum up most of our friends’ comments on the weather.

But today was simply lovely — bright and sunny and warm — and so I decided to take a stroll with my shiny new Nordic walking poles.

Not very far from my starting point, I was surprised to find some bursts of colour in the front lawn of another house. And here’s what I saw:

Are these what I think they are?

Now I’m no expert on flowers, but these sure looked like crocuses to me. And I thought crocuses popped up only in the spring. Does anyone have a better idea?

Follow-up note: Thanks to a reader, I’ve learned that these flowers are called “sternbergia.” Further research finds that they are also known as “autumn daffodil” and “yellow autumn crocus.” So I guess we’re not really having spring in September! Lovely, all the same.

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