Our own velvet fog

More experienced (that is, older) readers may remember the talented American musician, Mel Torme (1925 – 1999). His vocal style was so smooth that he was dubbed The Velvet Fog.

In the Greater Daglan Area, at this time of year, we have our own velvet fog. It’s not a singer, however. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, actual fog.

Yesterday we had quite a dose of the grey stuff. As I drove towards Gourdon in the morning, I spent several kilometres on winding country roads which are not only narrow but unmarked with white lines down the centre, or anywhere else. Since I couldn’t see very far ahead, I took the drive nice and slowly. (Fortunately, on the drive home from my aqua fitness class, the fog had mostly lifted.)

I’ve often said that when I drive on country roads in fog, or rain, or twilight, or night, I’m very happy that I’ve driven on these roads before, and can anticipate hills and turns as they appear.

I didn’t take any photos yesterday — it seemed too hazardous to stop my car in the fog — but I do have one to offer from a few years ago. It shows a few of us on our bikes, heading up from Daglan towards Castelnaud, and it will give you the idea:

Fog over the countryside.

This morning, the weather has switched gears just a bit, and seems to have given us plain old cloudy weather, rather than fog. Here’s a view up towards Daglan’s church steeple:

Not the bright blue sky we love.

If there’s a message here, it’s that when you’re in the Greater Daglan Area on autumn mornings, be prepared to take it easy when driving.


Posted in Bicycling in the Dordogne, Life in southwest France, Travels in and out of France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A new Part II of the cat story, with an apology

Recently I published two blog postings about our cat, “The cat who came in from the cold.” I have now removed Part II, which provided a narrative on how we came to acquire Souci.

I have done this because I clearly offended neighbours of ours in the telling of the story, and I have now personally apologized to them.

Certainly no harm was intended in any of my comments, to the neighbours or indeed anyone else in the village of Daglan, and I do sincerely apologize. As also requested by the neighbours, I will be sending them a letter of apology.

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The cat who came in from the cold — Part I

We have a new cat. Well, not really a new cat, because she has lived with us for some time. But certainly a different cat, as you’ll soon discover.

In case you’re wondering why in the world I would be writing about something as commonplace as acquiring a new pet, the fact is that our cat’s arrival makes for a pretty interesting story.

Souci is our first indoor/outdoor cat, our first all-French cat, and the first cat who chose us (or at least, chose my wife Jan) instead of us choosing her. And she could well be known as the cat who came in from the cold.

Inevitably, however, this story includes another pet — our handsome and beloved male cat Scooter. Here’s how I described him in a blog posting of March 30 this year, called “Good-bye to All That:”

Scooter was from Toronto, but he travelled with us to Daglan when we left Canada in the summer of 2010. That involved a transatlantic flight to Paris; a night in our favourite Paris hotel; a long train journey to Brive; and then a drive down through a tourist-packed Sarlat to reach Daglan.

First in Toronto and then in Daglan, he was with us for more than 13 years in all, and he became an important — and often quite visible — member of our family.

As you may have gathered from the tone of this, Scooter is no longer with us. Our vet put him to sleep on March 29 in Gourdon, because Scoots was suffering from severe kidney failure. This photo shows him in one of his favourite positions, sitting on Jan’s knee:

On Jan’s lap, in early 2014.

Scooter was always an indoors-only cat — as the humane society in Toronto advised us that keeping cats indoors was the best policy in a big city. So he never ventured outdoors, except for short periods in our fenced-in back yard in Toronto.

Now keep Scooter in the back of your mind, as I proceed with the story of how we acquired Souci.

It all goes back to a sunny day in the late summer of 2016. As I was about to drive away from the house for an appointment, I heard a strange squeaking/chirping sort of noise. It could only be baby birds, or else brand-new kittens. Because I had to leave, I asked Jan to investigate.

As it turned out, the squeaking was coming from a nest of kittens, which the mother cat had deposited in a neighbour’s back yard.

And here, the story takes a very sad turn, although there’s eventually a happy ending. But we’ll save that for Part II.



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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.

Posted in Flora and fauna, Life in southwest France, Weather in the Dordogne | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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!


Posted in Food, French food, Life in southwest France, Recipes, Wine | Leave a comment

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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