Buds into blooms — hurrah!

My regular springtime reporting on our glycine vines continues. Just two and half weeks ago, on March 22, I posted “A nice early start (for our wisteria)” and showed off the flowers that were just developing on the vine that grows on the right-hand side of our front stairs.

(Just in case you were in any doubt, that would be the “right-hand side” as you face the house, and not as you look out from the steps.)

This is what the ends of that vine looked like:

Almost ready to become actual flowers.

Now, what a difference two and half weeks can make. Here is the same section of vine as of this afternoon:

A pretty nice display.

And what about the vine on the left-hand side? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Rien. Could it be time to rip it out and install a honeysuckle?

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Our odd Easter lunch

Jan and I did have some doubts about ordering the take-away menu from Daglan’s Le Petit Paris for our Easter lunch. The main elements — foie gras, slow-cooked lamb, and a Caribbean-sort of dessert — all seemed fine. But there were some odd touches that were, well, odd.

As it turned out, the odd touches did detract from the meal, considerably.

To begin, there was a terrine of foie gras — which we usually enjoy a great deal. But with the Le Petit Paris version was to be “houmous au tahini de noix,” which seemed distinctly unlike the more usual “sweet” accompaniment, such as a fig chutney. And indeed the savoury hummus with walnut tahini added nothing to the foie, and I left mine on the side of the plate. The other problem (which might not seem like a problem) is that the serving of the foie gras was simply too big. It was certainly moist and tasty and so on, but hard to finish. Here’s my serving (with a piece of the soft, salty roll that came with the dish):

Very good indeed — but just too large a portion.

Next came the plat principal, lamb that had been cooked for seven hours. I thought the lamb was tender enough, but it was accompanied by a “caviar d’aubergines relevé aux anchois.” That accompaniment was, well, simply too odd for me. For one thing, the plate looked like a large pool of brown goo, and so I’m not going to disturb you with a photo of it. I did eat the lamb, but I’m not sure I got beyond a tiny taste of the eggplant and anchovies.

Finally, the menu promised a crème caraïbe chocolat/pistache, which again sounded pretty good, since I enjoy both chocolate and pistachio flavours. But this time it was the construction of the dessert that was odd. The main part of the dessert came in a bowl, with the pistachio cream on the bottom, and a thick chocolate ganache sitting on top. Then, on the side, there was a soft (and very good) chocolate sponge, like a cupcake. Once I had eaten most of the ganache, I wound up dunking the chocolate sponge into the pistachio cream. All in all, it was good — except for the odd, and not very attractive, construction. Here’s my plate:

A dessert that didn’t quite hang together.

Our final verdict: Jan and I probably should have made a roast leg of lamb lunch for ourselves, and the chef at Le Petit Paris should rein in his wilder excesses.

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A late-March delight

“Guess what!” exclaimed Jan, when she returned home this morning after a trip to the weekly Daglan market. “The gariguettes have arrived!”

Temporarily, I was stunned — who were the Gariguettes? Were they a family I should remember? (Forgetting things is, well, not uncommon for me.)

No, of course, not. They were gariguette strawberries, always the first French strawberries to be available each spring. Here’s how another website once described these beauties:

“They are small, soft and aromatic, reminiscent of wild strawberries. They taste simply fantastic. … Gariguettes are grown in the area between Carpentras, Avignon and Cavaillon, mostly under plastic tunnels to ripen early.”

So of course we both had to have a bowl of gariguettes, drizzled with cream, as our dessert after lunch today. And here is my pre-cream bowl:

A real taste of early spring.

An update on Thai take-out: Recently we had quite a frustrating experience trying to order food from Sawadee, the very good Thai restaurant in nearby Cénac (that I’ve written about often). Jan phoned its two different numbers, several times, and either got no reply at all or a recording that said to leave a message. But no one ever called back, despite the fact that its website said the restaurant should have been re-opened (after its annual winter break).

Subsequent trips past the restaurant showed absolutely no activity, and we wondered if the couple who run Sawadee had become “trapped” in Thailand, unable to travel because of the Covid pandemic.

In any case, the website has just been updated, and it’s now promising that the restaurant will re-open on April 16. Fingers crossed.

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A nice early start (for our wisteria)

Pretty much each spring I provide a report on our two glycine — that would be wisteria vines, in English — to indicate not only how the vines themselves are growing, but to give you a snapshot of our weather.

Last year, for instance, I posted “Another tale of two vines” (April 11) to compare and contrast the flowering productivity of the vine on the left of our front steps and the vine on the right.

This year I’m starting a bit earlier, as today was nice and sunny, and there was some early evidence of growth on the vines. And sure enough, it looks like the right-hand vine is going to out-do its neighbour on the left once again.

Here’s a look at the right-hand vine, starting to produce the growths that will eventually become flowers:

Let’s let these develop for a bit longer, and then take another look when they are in full bloom.

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The view from the vaccination pit

When was the last time you worried about polio? A long time ago, or never? That would make sense, because the disease has been essentially wiped out through an intense vaccination program. Today it’s estimated that polio has been 99.9% eradicated throughout the world.

But that wasn’t the case when I was a child. In the late 1940s, especially in summer, parents were terrified to let their children out of the house, for fear they would catch the disease (which affects young people in particular). As it happens, my father had polio as a youth; although he survived to a ripe old age (96), he always walked with a limp, because the muscles in his left leg were much weaker than in his right leg. And I still remember photos of hospitalized children lying in “iron lungs” (mechanical respirators), fighting to breathe.

And then, of course, along came the Salk vaccine, which was approved in 1955 in the U.S., and was used in a massive vaccination program. A few years later, along came the oral vaccine.

In my own case, I believe I had the inoculation (the Salk vaccine) while in elementary school, although it is so long ago that I’ve forgotten the details, and I may have had the oral vaccine. In any case, I was free of the disease, as were all my classmates.

Which of course brings us to today, and the Covid-19 pandemic that has swept the world, killed thousands, and caused huge economic as well as personal and social damage. And here in enlightened France, what is being done about vaccinations? Frankly, not much.

Jan has checked out the appropriate website many times, and still can’t make an appointment for a vaccination. When she tried phoning (many times), the phone just rang and rang, or someone would answer and say that she should try again. There has not even been an attempt to reserve a day and time — which is what would happen if you wanted a “regular” appointment with your dentist or doctor. (Nurse: “We can book you in for April 16, at 4 p.m. Would that work?” You: “Yes, that’s fine. I’ll put that in my calendar.”)

And yet French officials keep bragging about opening new vaccination centres, but without vaccines to put into people’s arms.

It’s made me think of a well-to-do country that wants to improve its citizens’ health, and so it sets about building a host of public swimming pools, to be available free, located in cities, towns and rural communities across the land. All good, except that the pools are empty — the officials cannot decide if they should use chlorinated water, un-chlorinated water, tap water, distilled water, or whatever. So nothing is done.

And that’s pretty much the approach here in Europe, in mid-March 2021. Not impressive.

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Our new window: Just six days! (And counting…)

How long do you think it takes to change a window? An hour or two? A day or two?

I suppose that’s about right, assuming that you were simply substituting one window for a similar model. (We had that done a few years ago, with double-pane windows replacing the single-pane versions.) But we’ve just learned that things aren’t so simple when it’s a new kind of window altogether. Have a look.

Our starting point was the little peaked window that you can barely see on our roof (below), above the garage and our large kitchen window. You’ll see a little triangle, sticking up from the tiled roof, and within that a small window.

The window was never of much use, except for our cats, who would sometimes sit on the ledge and look out. Finally, Jan decided it was time to change the window’s scope, and create what the French call a lucarne window — what you might call a dormer window.

Not much of a window, really.

I won’t drag out this story by detailing how long it took between getting a quotation and finally having the work done — but the delay went on for months. Finally Jan had a somewhat terse conversation with the carpenter, who said that he might possibly begin the work in March. Well, okay.

Then, with no further phone call or emails, the carpenter and his apprentice showed up at our front door on Monday, March 1, ready to go. Their van and trailer were loaded with equipment, including pipes and platforms to create scaffolding. And so the work began.

By Monday afternoon, they were in full flight — sawing, banging, drilling. The noise was horrendous, and it went on pretty much until dinner time. Here’s a look at the scaffolding in place, with the carpenter and his apprentice working away:

The worksite, in all its glory.

At the end of each day, Jan would ask the two workers when they would be done, but she never got an exact time — or day. Finally, around noon on Friday (March 5), the work team announced that they were stopping for the weekend, but would return on Monday. At that point, the actual window had not been installed — all the sawing and hammering had been to cut through our roof and create the structure for the lucarne window. (The fact that our house is several hundred years old and is constructed in large measure of limestone and heavy wood beams accounts for the heavy going.)

Before the team left, we made sure that they had put a tarp over the large opening, so that we wouldn’t be completely flooded by cold air over the weekend. And here is what the window opening looked like from the inside of the room:

A view from the inside of the room.

Sure enough, on Monday the carpenter and his apprentice turned up bright and early and installed the window, and then started dismantling the scaffolding. They disappeared for lunch (this is France, after all) but returned promptly to finish the clean-up. All in all, we were pleased with their work, and with the window’s final, and rather majestic, appearance. And here it is:

All done — at least on the outside.

So that was that — a total of six days of work to get the project done. Well, actually, not completely done, because there is still work to be completed inside the window frame, including insulation and wallboard and painting. But hey — we’ve got time. And Jan and I both like the light that now comes flooding into the room upstairs.

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Going back to taking out

Restaurants and cafés remain closed in France, but there are still some great take-out options. However, Jan and I haven’t been indulging too frequently lately, in part because our favourite source (O Moulin, in Carsac) has been closed. However, we are getting back into the swing of things.

In recent weeks, for instance, we’ve taken out pizzas from La Cantine, the restaurant next door to the Office of the Mayor in Daglan. Not exactly fine-dining, but still good. (Jan buys gluten-free pizza dough at the supermarket, and the staff at La Cantine use that as the base for her pizza.)

Then on Sunday, we thought we should give Le Petit Paris (a short walk from our home) another try. The take-out menu for that day seemed attractive enough, and so we ordered lunch for the two of us.

The entrée was a bouchée à la reine (“a queen’s morsel”), and a generous “morsel” it was. The filling was served to us separately, so it could be re-heated in our oven, and then poured into the crispy, light, flaky pastry shell, without making the pastry soggy. The filling was traditional — pieces of chicken and bits of button mushrooms (champignons de Paris) in a creamy sauce. (Chef had cleverly given Jan a hollowed-out baked potato as her “shell,” since she is allergic to gluten.) I thought the dish was delicious — and here’s my serving:

Rich filling, light and crispy shell.

The main course was at least as good, featuring a well-balanced combination of dishes — baked cod with a light tomato sauce; white rice; and a roasted red pepper. Here’s my serving:

A well-balanced plate of food.

For dessert I had the baba au rhum, stuffed to over-flowing with whipped cream. The baba was about as rum-soaked as you can get, and of course I loved it. For her gluten-free dessert, Jan was served an incredibly thick and rich chocolate mousse (so rich that she couldn’t finish it, so I had the second half as my dessert with Monday’s lunch). Here’s my baba:

Pretty much drenched in rum. Who’s complaining?

This coming weekend, we plan to order the Saturday lunch from Le Petit Paris — featuring lamb sweetbreads, in a sauce made from Monbazillac, the sweet white wine from the Bergerac region, about an hour west of Daglan. A report will follow.

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Another year’s wait

I realize this is small potatoes when compared with other events — both personal and public — that have been cancelled because of the pandemic we are all enduring, but for the record I thought I would note that again in 2021, Daglan will not be hosting its Fête du Printemps, or Spring Festival.

The festival had been rolling along for a few years before Covid-19 shut it down for 2020, and it’s been cancelled again — because of “la situation sanitaire,” as our Mairie or Office of the Mayor put it. I last described the festival in detail in the posting “Spring Festival: from soggy to successful,” on March 18, 2019.

There are indeed some “activities” associated with the festival, but mostly it’s a chance for residents to select and buy their flowers, plants, shrubs and trees for the coming spring planting season. Vendors selling all kinds of plants are spread throughout the village.

Actually, Daglan takes this festival pretty seriously. You can tell that from the high quality of the promotional sign for the 2019 festival, shown below:

Promoting the 2019 festival.

So…will the festival return in 2022? One can only hope. But then as I wrote at the start, this festival is actually pretty small potatoes compared with the myriad of personal and public events around the globe that have been cancelled since the pandemic hit in 2020. Let’s hope the vaccination programs really start to take effect.

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Drag out those hip-waders!

Feeling civic-minded? Tired of being cooped up in your locked-down lifestyle? Anxious to try on that old pair of hip-waders (or other boots) cluttering up your closet? Now’s your chance to get out and help.

On Thursday (February 25), Daglan is hoping that you bénévoles (volunteers) will meet up at the old football pitch near the bridge crossing the Céou River and help clean up and haul away all the bushes, logs and other debris that tend to build up on the river’s banks during our rainy winters.

The nettoyage, or cleaning, will take place between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. I suspect a lunch will follow.

To sign up, and get more information, just call the Mairie, at 05 – 53 -28 – 41 – 16.

For a look at why the clean-up is needed, here’s a photo of the Céou running a bit rough. At certain points in its journey north to the Dordogne River, it can really get clogged up:

Lots of branches and trees can clog things up.

These days of civic action occur fairly regularly. I believe that the last time I wrote about the phenomenon was last July 9, in “Volunteering — with brushes in hand.” That’s when teams of volunteers went through the area, cleaning up and painting the religious monuments.

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Snowdrops and Saharan sand

Yesterday morning when we looked out our front window, Jan and I both exclaimed that the sky looked weird. Like, really weird. That’s because it was uniformly coloured a light orange. Hmmm.

A bit later, when I went out to take away the garbage and recycling, I noticed that both our cars were completely speckled in a light grey-orange powder, stuck to the cars because they were wet from the night’s rain.

Then the light went on in my wee brain, and my deduction has since been confirmed by various news reports: The orange sky was caused by clouds of dust and sand from the Sahara desert — blown across the Mediterranean by strong winds, eventually to drop to earth in southern France. This has happened before, but never so dramatically in the 10 years we’ve been living in the Greater Daglan Area.

A sign of spring: On a jolly note, the other day Jan and I noticed that snowdrops had started pushing up through the ground, and flowering. The French cleverly call the flowers perce-neige, because they are able to “pierce” a thin layer of snow. But we’re not having any snow these days, so I guess the snowdrops are having an easy time of it. Here’s one of the plants in bloom, with other flowers starting to push up as well:

A sure sign that winter is slowly coming to an end.
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