Une soirée paella

On the last Friday of each month the cycle club has a dinner at the club house; it’s always fairly well attended, but the June dinner is paella and is very popular. Each month one or more of the club members prepares the aperitifs, often in the month of their birthday; so since it was mine in June, I offered to do the aperos. I didn’t really have a clue what was expected, but my good friend Maithée offered to help me, so I arrived at her house on Friday morning, ready to shop and cook, only to find that she’d already done the majority of the work, having made pizzas and ham and cheese rolls.

When I arrived, an old friend of Maithée’s husband Pierre was visiting to look through some old photos that Pierre is researching. This gentleman (also known as Jacky) used to play rugby with the Nogaro team in 1953, when they won the French Rugby championship. Amazing to think that a small community like Nogaro, which even today is only home to around 2000 people, could produce a rugby team of such calibre.

Once we’d chatted to Jacky about some of the photos, Maithée and I shopped for melons, cherry tomatoes and the makings of pousse rapière, a powerful local concoction of orange flavoured armagnac and sparkling wine, and prepared the remaining aperos.

It’s impossible around here to reciprocate for the kindness of the people; I took a jar of lemon marmalade and one of chutney, but came home laden with three jars of various jams and a large bundle of rhubarb (part of a bagful given to Maithée by another Jacquie who arrived during the morning).

The evening was great, the paella superb and the aperos well received by all 46 diners. We were exhausted by the time we got home after midnight as we were the only English speakers there this time and although it’s becoming easier, 5 hours of neat French is still quite taxing on the grey matter.

Meet – Hermione

Julie, Adrian and their friend John arrived for lunch today, bearing gifts. Not just any old gifts, but Kieran’s and my joint birthday present; a baby goose. She was very nervous and unhappy when we put her in my workshop-to-be, where she’ll live until she’s old enough to be put in with the hens, but Nick and Julie managed to coax her into having a drink and some food. We hardly saw Nick for the rest of the afternoon, but Hermione, as the goose will be known, seems to have adopted him as a surrogate mother. That’s fine when he’s in the room with her, but as soon as he leaves she starts crying for his return! Hopefully she’ll settle in soon and he’ll be freed from fostering duties; we’ll have to build a house for her quite soon and enlarge the hen enclosure. Watch this space, I’ll let you know how we get on!

How long will it take?

It’s Tuesday morning; we’ve got people coming to dinner tonight and my back, though improving, isn’t as free as I’d hoped it would be by now. So I send Nick and Kieran to do the shopping while I start cleaning up, in half hour stints, with half hour rests in between.

Once the shopping’s done and lunch is over, the lads decide to install the kitchen part of the VMC, which involves swathing the sink, the cooker and the dishwasher in dust sheets to protect them from flying debris and moving the things that normally live there to every other surface in the kitchen. To my query as to how long this will take, I receive the standard reply; “Oh, not long”; this can mean anything from 10 minutes to a week, I really don’t know why I bother asking the question any more!

3o’clock; I still can’t get anywhere near the sink end of the kitchen, there’s barely an inch of work surface anywhere and anyway, everything is covered in a generous layer of brick dust and rubble, not to mention the crunchiness of the floor. I’m beginning to panic slightly as we know one couple a little, but have only met the other couple briefly once, and their daughter not at all, so I’d like the place to be as good as it can be and for the meal to be OK.

But by 4o’clock the work is finished; we set to, wiping and polishing, hoovering and mopping. We prepare prunes wrapped in Bayonne ham (which takes longer than it should when I discover that the prunes aren’t stoned!), cherry tomatoes, basil and feta on cocktail sticks and other bits for the aperitifs without which no meal is complete here. I make a salade composé as a starter and prepare fillets of merlan, rolled up, to be served on a bed of home made ratatouille and topped with home made tapenade. We’ll serve it with rice and French beans picked from the garden, followed by salade and cheese and a Tropézienne, a light sponge with a filling of crème patissière, bought, I have to confess, from the supermarket as I didn’t think my back was up to any more cooking. Just as well, really, as I wouldn’t have had time anyway!

Fortunately, our guests arrive a little late, as we finish setting the table; Philippa is, apart from Nick and I, the only other English member of the cycling club; Dav, her partner, is one of the top stained glass window makers currently working, and has offered me some of his old, painted glass offcuts to use in my own, rather amateur windows. Alain is another keen cyclist and his wife Corinne owns a clothes shop in a nearby town. Their teenage daughter completes the group; she and her mother are enchanted by Hugo, the star of the evening.

We take aperos in the garden, where the temperature has dropped enough to be pleasant to sit out, then move inside for the rest of the meal and a discussion about the Raide Pyreneen (a cycle ride from one end of the Pyrenees to the other, over 27 cols), planned for September.

In the middle of the evening the phone rings; I’m overjoyed; it’s Joel, our builder, who I’ve been trying to contact for weeks. He’s not left the country after all, and is coming round to see us next week. The icing on the cake of a very pleasant evening.


A day in the hills – for some

I know; it was stupid; I should have known better by now; but I never learn. So, after several weeks of non-stop gardening, cycling and DIYing, my back decided it was time for a rest. I’ve spent most of the last 4 days confined to bed, barely able to shuffle about, let alone go to the Pyrenees for the weekend’s planned walk with the club 🙁  It’s improving now, though, as it should; we’ve got dinner for eight tomorrow, a visit to friends’ later in the week, then there’s the bathroom to finish before 6 motorbikers descend in 10 days and the floor in the arrière cuisine to tile….. Hmmm, sounding familiar….!

However, Nick and Kieran enjoyed their weekend. Kieran went for a motorbike ride up the col de Somport in the Pyrenees with Adrian and Julie and Nick took his bike for a ride up four cols, the highest of which was the col de Pierre St. Martin, at 1765m. His companion for the day was Philippa, a very keen cyclist who lives nearby and who is going to join a select band to do a Raide Pyreneen (end to end of the Pyrenees) in the autumn.

It was back to work today, for the lads anyway, as they started to fit the VMC, a ventilation system for the kitchen and bathrooms, as well as shutters for the last two windows in the back wall. As soon as my back allows, I’ll have to lasure them, but perhaps not this week!

Dead and buried

When we bought this house, there was a large wine press in the grange. Nick and Kieran dismantled it, but the problem was how to dispose of the 3.5m long, 20cm thick, extremely heavy screw thread from the centre of it; it certainly weighed far too much to take to the local tip! (Kieran estimates probably about half a ton)

They finally decided that it would have to be buried in the grange, so as it was pouring with rain today, it seemed a suitable project. Kieran dug the hole with the digger, but had a slight mishap when one of the wheels “just came off”; a trip to town for a suitably sized socket to take a bolt out, to allow them to fix it, then came the hard part. They tied rope to the screw and lifted it with the digger, but there’s a ridge in the middle of the floor; as the digger went over the ridge, the weight of the screw threatened to tip the digger over. Kieran lowered the screw to the floor till the digger tracks were back on the level again, then turned and lowered the screw into its grave before filling the hole with rubble.

A good day; we’re rid of the screw and a bit of our rubble mountain and the boys thoroughly enjoyed their game!

Introducing – Hugo

Thank you, everyone who suggested names for the kitten; there were some wonderfully imaginative ideas, but in the end, Kieran’s suggestion of Hugo seems to have stuck, so Hugo he is. He’s becoming more confident now, chasing round the ground floor of the house, though he tends to take corners too fast and skids round them on the slippery tiles! He still doesn’t like going outdoors though.

As today dawned cool and cloudy, it was a blissful relief; it doesn’t seem right to complain about the sunshine and the heat, but the last few days have been so hot that even sitting outside for lunch had become something of an endurance test. I went for a bike ride this morning, while Nick and Kieran headed off to their French class, arriving home only half an hour later because the teacher had been so engrossed in her gardening that she forgot to turn up! So they decided it was a good day to mix concrete; they’ve finished the floor of the arriere cuisine and done two thirds of my workroom floor, which they’ll complete tomorrow.

I spent most of the day in the garden; just weeding the potager seems to be a full time occupation. But we were rewarded with our first French beans of the year; the yellow ones and the purple ones haven’t produced many yet, but there were plenty of green beans for dinner;-)

Name the kitten!

Another hot day dawned, so this morning Nick continued to finish the cementing around the new windows while Kieran took the whacker to the subfloor in my workshop and I did some gardening, before it got too hot to be outside.

This evening we’d arranged to look at a kitten in Nogaro, so we headed off into town; we had some difficulty finding the address as I’d written the wrong house number down, but eventually the owners found us! We had the choice of two kittens and chose the male; he’s 8 weeks old and even I had to admit he’s quite cute; and once again, we’d like suggestions for names please!

Like most fellas, he’s already causing trouble; within minutes of arriving here, he disappeared down the narrow gap between a cupboard and the wall, then disappeared entirely and started miaowing wildly; then silence. We emptied the top of the cupboard and removed it from its base then moved the base a little out from the wall; by taking a photo on his phone of under the cupboard from behind, Kieran could tell that the kitten was hiding there and was OK. Eventually, Nick and Kieran managed to get him out of his hiding place, only for him to take up residence under the dresser in the hall! Last time I looked, Kieran was lying on the hall floor (he and Nick having taken the stitches out of his leg in the meantime!), trying to talk the kitten out of his new hidey hole.

Nick’s ark

And the Lord said unto Nick “It’s going to rain for 40 days and 40 nights; go and build an ark and put two of all the animals into it”. Well, the woodwork’s coming along nicely and we’ve got 2 chickens, 2 snails, 2 slugs, 2 mice, 2 dogs, 2 Rhoneys and 3 Cawthrays so far. We’re having problems catching the doves as they keep flying away, looking for treetop leaves while they can still find them.

I hope this rain doesn’t last 40 days; it’s been cold and very windy for days, too. If we wanted weather like this, we could have stayed in Harrogate!

Still, we had a lovely day today, the day between Kieran’s birthday and mine, in spite of the weather. Adrian and Julie came over for a curry; we played some guitar and Ade did some artwork on Kieran’s leg. They told us they’ve ordered us a joint birthday present – a goose, which will be ready to collect in a couple of weeks. It’s a female and we’d like some suggestions for names, please, if anyone feels inspired.

OK, tea break’s over; better get back to sewing the sails! Anyone know where I might get a pair of duckbilled platypus? (or should that be platypii?)

Fresh fruit salad

Strawberries, raspberries, cherries, blackcurrants and redcurrants; the ingredients list for tonight’s fruit salad, and all picked from the garden only a few minutes before we ate them. Delicious, organic and so satisfying!

Our first “proper” visitors, ie. not family

On Wednesday I collected our friends, Anne and Suzanne, from Toulouse airport; our first non-family, non-resident-in-France visitors. Unfortunately, they brought us a taste of more English weather than we’ve been used to recently, but it did mean that we could wander around tourist sites without being too hot!

In the three days they were here we managed to visit Pau (the first time we’ve been there and been unable to see the Pyrenees due to the cloud being so heavy!), Auch, the market in the medieval town of Eauze and the stunning remains of a Roman villa at Seviac as well as eating out several times and having a bit of chill time too. I just hope they enjoyed their stay as much as we did.

When Nick and I got back from Toulouse airport today, it was to find that Kieran had been busy all day stripping down his motorbike to clean and service it. It’s in pieces all over the grange floor now, while he repaints some bits that were a little rusty. I’m sure there’ll be pictures of the rebuilding job as it progresses.