Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Sunset on the Pampas

August brings two highlights to our garden - it's the monthe that we get the best sunsets and its when the Pampas grass flowers.

Tuesday, 28 August 2007

That Spot Again

You may have seen my post entitled Tricks of the Light.

If you did, you might be interested to see this follow up shot. The spot light created by the round window in the opposite wall moves across the wall each afternoon.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Wednesday Evening, The Amphitheatre, Arles

Every Wednesday there is a traditional Camarguaise bull fight in the Roman arena in Arles. A great opportunity to see the arena continuing to be used for the purpose for which it was built around 2,000 years ago.

Camarguaise, by the way, means 'of the Camargue' - the area of marsh and salt flats formed by the Rhone delta between Arles and the Mediterranean, where the wild bulls are raised in 'manades', or ranches, by the cowboys of the Camargue, the 'guardians', riding white Camargue ponies and surrounded by lagoons of flamingos.

The bulls are not killed. Indeed they are the heroes. It is they that have first billing on the posters advertising the fight and individual bulls gain a following amongst aficionados. The challenge is for the 'razateurs' (the bull fighters) to cut a very small, string rosette tied to the horns of the bull as the bull charges. It's very skilful and potentially very dangerous. These are wild bulls with unprotected horns.

A particular feature of the Course Camarguaise is the way in which the razateurs use the side boarding of the arena to leap to safety. (Sometimes the bulls follow!)

Monday, 20 August 2007

Almond Harvest

OK - it's noy many, but it's a start! (And how many people do you know who harvest their own almonds from their own almond tree?)

Tuesday, 14 August 2007

Windows of Provence (1)

When I was at art college, our art history teacher told us that if we wanted to see the true architecture of a place - that which he 20th century didn't get to - then look up. Since then, when visiting new places, I've taken her advice.

For a while I've been collecting pictures of windows around the region, and now I'm going to start posting them as a series. Here's the first, taken in Aix-en-Provence...

(All I did was do like Kitty said and "look up".)

Tricks of the Light

It's been quite a while I know. Summer's truly on us and the house is bulging at the seems for most of August. Lindsay's been in Brussels for 3 weeks and I've just been too busy to blog. I'll make up for it in the next few weeks as I've got a backlog of images that I want to post.

Here are two interesting ones - both are right-time-right-place shots. No particular story just a couple of things I noticed when I happened to have the camera handy.

This is our front door bell, bought for us by our friends Nick and Babeth and their daughters, Sophie and Emily. It saves our guests having to climb our spiral staircase when the want to find us and saves us the embarrassment of guests coming up to find us still asleep in bed! This shot was taken at lunch time (so yes, I was up by then!) when the sun was directly to the South - hence the perfectly square on shadow.

And this shot is taken in our apartment, the converted hayloft. In the apex of the western gable, we have a small round window. Every day, as the sun starts to descend, a perfect circle of light works its way across the opposite wall. Here it is at 6.30, hitting my collection of minitaure Penguin books released to celebrate Penguin's 60th birthday. All together a too good to miss all round orange moment - the book spines, the Antony Gormley poster and the setting sunlight.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Avignon at Dusk - Relieved to be home

I have just returned from a few days in the UK, visiting my parents. Britain is not having the best of summers to put it mildly. Nor, for that matter is most of France, where the trend is generally cold and wet.

But we live in the area called the 'demi-lune' by the French because of the persistent crescent (demi-lune = half-moon) of good weather to be found along France's Eastern Mediterranean coast and hinterland - running from the mouth of the Rhone to the Italian border.

On the other hand, just to the South and East, in Italy, Greece and Central Europe a heat wave is under way with temperatures regularly in the mid-40s (Celsius)!

We seem to be straddling the two weather systems. Summer is cooler than we're used to, but that's too say that its dry with the odd cloud, cool in the evenings and daytime temperatures generally reaching about 30 degrees C (85F). Actually very pleasant.

As I drove back home through Avignon the sun was setting. These two pictures sum up the sense of relief to be back from soggy old Blighty!

Monday, 16 July 2007

Busy, Busy, Busy

It's been a hectic few weeks to start July and my blogging has slipped as a result.

Week 1 was an all-catered, all-touring week at Mas des Grand' Terres. Looking after Rosemary and Owen and their friends is great fun and very rewarding but doesn't really leave time for very much else. I'll post the rest of the recipes from that week very soon. (As soon as I find the time!)

Week 2 then started with a trip to Italy to see some old college friends in Florence. Graeme now has a house on the hill overlooking Florence...

Unfortunately it doesn't have a view of the Duomo - that costs three times more - but it's a beautiful house in a converted 'limonaia' (whatever is the lemon equivalent of an orangery). Joanne very cleverly decided not to have her and husband Julian's joint 40th birthday in rainy old London, but to occupy Graeme's place and arrange a 'top night'. (I'm only just about over the hangover now.) Here they are having a laugh...

And to show that it run's in the family here's their baby, Georgie, following the family tradition...

Week 3: Anyway - real life has been back to Earth with a bump. Lindsay heading back to Brussels at 7 on the morning after our return from Florence and me returning home on my own to a filthy house, a filthy great pile of washing and a filthy headache!

Add to that a graphics pitch that I'm preparing for Benjamin and a trip back to Blighty tomorrow to see my parents and I hope you'll excuse the recent lack of activity.

I must be a better blogger. I must be a better blogger. I must be a better blogger. I must be a better blogger. I must be a better blogger. I must be a better blogger.......

Saturday, 30 June 2007

Last Night's Dinner - Saturday 30 June

We're cooking dinner every night this week. I thought I'd share this one...

Leek feuillettés

followed by

Chicken breasts stuffed with lemon and sultanas, wrapped in jambon cru with green beans and new potatoes and a yoghurt, lemon juice and olive oil dressing

followed by

Chocolate and orange mousse

Chicken Breasts stuffed with Lemon and Sultanas, wrapped in Jambon Cru Serves 6

1 onion
2 lemons
6 bay leaves
A handful of sultanas
3 slices of stale bread
6 chicken breast fillets
6 large slices of jambon cru (parma ham or similar)
Salt, pepper, olive oil

Preheat oven to 200ºC

Chop the onion to sultana sized pieces. Finely slice the rind (not the pith) of the 2 lemons and fry with the onion, bay leaves, and a pinch of salt until soft. Then add the sultanas, a good grind of pepper - enough to make the finished stuffing properly peppery - and squeeze in the juice of one lemon and continue to cook until the liquid is reduced. Finish by removing from the heat, taking out the bay leaves and stirring in the juice of the other lemon and the bread crumbs.

Bash out the chicken breasts until flat and about double in size (cover with cling film as you do this to stop the fillets breaking up). Spread the fillet out on its back and pat a sixth of the stuffing into its centre. Roll it and then roll it again in a piece of jambon cru to hold it together.

Cook for 20/25 minutes.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Baux is for Bauxite

Les-Baux-de-Provence (as well as a stunning medieval cliff-top castle and village listed officially as one of France's most beautiful villages) is where, in 1822, aluminium ore was first discovered and mined and thus Les-Baux is the place from where bauxite takes its name.

Massive blocks of limestone were hewn from these hills to be processed into aluminium - at that time one of the most precious metals on Earth. The ore is long mined out, leaving these strange geometrical caves in the rock face.

The quarries are abandoned, but can still be clambered up to.

The only part of the quarry to continue to be used houses an astonishing sound and light show in what is called the Cathedrale d'Image - the image cathedral. But that's another story...

Saturday, 23 June 2007

Les-Baux Rocks! - The Eagles and The Faces

Les-Baux-de-Provence (the place that bauxite takes its name from) is a rocky old place - a medieval castle ruin and cliff-top village set above a ravine called the Valley of Hell and said to have been the inspiration for Dantes seven(?) cirles of hell. The Mistral wind cuts through the soft limestone rock to create incredible sculpted shapes, some abstract, some weirdly not...

So here they are, The Eagles...

... and The Faces...

I'll post more about Les-Baux later.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Aliens Spotted Over Ventoux!

Having posted my shot of a storm cloud over Mont Ventoux recently, I was reminded of this shot that I took last summer.

Apparently this classic flying saucer cloud effect is caused by nimbus cloud getting caught in a whirlwind at high level. Strangely I'd read about this in the newspapers only a couple of days before and how such photographs have traditionally tricked people into believing in imminent alien invasion (more convincing in black and white). And then just a few days later I went and saw one!

Monday, 18 June 2007

Chicken Girl

Here she is. The girl who cooks the delicious 'rotis poulets' in front of two full height gas burners on the market at Chateaurenard every Sunday, whatever the weather. And it is regularly over 30ºC(86ºF) during the summer. (I posted about the great chickens that we get from the market, last Sunday - see Sunday-Gone-To-Market Chicken.)

Anyone agree that she has a touch of Zoe Ball about her? Working in that heat would keep any fat boy slim!

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Arrival Meal

Saturdays are our busiest days and so we can never cook for people in the way that we would on other nights. That doesn't mean that it can't be either pretty or tasty, though, We offer a simple meal to guests who ask for something on the evening of their arrival. The trick is to combine stuff that can be prepared in advance with things that are simple and fresh. For the guests that arrived yesterday I did this...

Individual asparagus quiches with a salad of mixed leaves, apple, minted cucumber and toasted pistachios...

... with a tomato salad...

... followed by 'Summer Tiramisu' - a cross between summer pudding and tiramisu

Friday, 15 June 2007

When the Rain is Over

Well, we'd always talked about putting a pond in, so yesterday's storm passing created a pond-visualisation-opportunity.

But gardens look great after the rain too. The dust is washed away. The greens are greener. And there's that little droplets of water thing that is so tricky to get right in a still life. So here are a few 'After the Rain' shots.

The First Lily

That's a Lily Lily (Lilium) as opposed to an Arum Lily - see May.

And the First Olives

These little fellers won't be ready until the end of October.

Periwinkle and Pansies

Rustic Corner - with extra rusticity!

This corner of our garden, just as you enter the gateway, has come to be known as 'Rustic Corner'. It's a little more rustic than usual as I really need to set the strimmer on those dandelions!

We inherited an old seed sowing machine when we bought the house. Lindsay's mum, Moira, cleaned it up and varnished it and then we parked it here. A couple of weeks later, a neighbour, Toto (another of those double names that you find around here), dropped by with a tray of marigold seedlings as a house warming present. We planted them in old pots that I'd found abandoned behind a shed and grow them on top of the seed sower. Four summers on, I'm still growing marigolds from the seeds gathered from those that Toto brought us, and they're still doing well, I'm sure that you'll agree...

In the centre of the marigolds is a lantana, which Lindsay's parents bought us. The combined yellows and oranges grouped on the red seed sower work very well here.

Actually, we don't have many yellow/orange summer flowering plants as I find that they can look pretty garish in the full sun of Provence. Take sunflowers for example - there's nothing subtle about them, is there? However they are so over the top and Provencal that I can always find room for them. I grow them in the vegetable garden as they work well in rows.

Generally I prefer cooler blues, whites, purples with reds and pinks as highlights.

Oh, by the way, the little tomato transplants made it through the storm...

Stormy Weather

5.44am: CRACK! And white light fills the house. I'm sure that lightning bolt hit the field behind us. Surely even Lindsay wouldn't have slept through that one? (Although she has slept through big ones in the past. Once, at an early hour of the morning, a clap of thunder broke that sounded like someone had just dropped a grand piano from a great height onto the roof just above our bed. Didn't stir!)

After this morning's strike, I got up and disconnected the computer - just in case - and went back to bed. Thunder and lightning crashed around for another hour although never as close again, and it rained hard for several hours. Good for the garden, generally, although I haven't been out just yet to see what the damage to my recently transplanted tomato plants may have been.

There've been storms throughout France this week and it looks set to continue next week. Last night up in Saone et Loire where my parents used to have a house (350km north of here) there was 1m50 of flood water in Marcigny and a mud slide in Iguerande!

We seem to avoid the majority of the storms that hit this area by dint of our geographical position - the surrounding hills tend to break the worst weather before it reaches us. Look at this fantastic sorm cloud I photographed building on the plane behind Mont Ventoux on Tuesday...

Sunday, 10 June 2007

Sunday-Gone-To-Market Chicken

Lindsay and I dropped by Chateaurenard market this morning. It's just a local market - no competitor to the internationally famous markets of Isle-sur-la-Sorgue or St-Remy-de-Provence - but very good and the centre of local life on a summer Sunday.

One great aspect is the fantastic 'poulets rotis' stall, where chickens (and a variety of other meats) are spit roasted in front of giant gas burners, whatever the temperature. And the chickens are so tasty. (I didn't have my camera with me, but I might go back with it next week for a few pics.)

We had ours with some boiled broad beans and Ratte new potatoes (Ratte because they are somewhat rodent shaped, I assume) tossed in butter, chopped mint leaves and a little coarse Camargue salt. (Beans, spuds and mint all home grown too!)

Saturday, 9 June 2007

Vivre Cote Sud

We spent Friday in Aix-en-Provence, meeting our friend Lana and her niece Caitlin for lunch before all four of us heading off to the Vivre Cote Sud home design salon.

Maisons Cote Sud is a very cool French home design magazine. Each month it publishes a magazine dedicated to contemporary interiors and gardens of the south of France and the Mediterranean. As such, Provence is the magazine's spiritual home, and thus Cote Sud is one of the principal points of reference for many of us living down here and interested in interior and garden design. That's not to say that we're slavish devotees, just that its a major source of inspiration. So when Cote Sud announce that they are hosting a salon in Aix-en-provence, many of us make a bee-line for the event.

Last year was the first year that Lindsay and I attended the show and we were delighted to find that rather than being held in a dingy edge-of-town exhibition centre, someone had had the inspired idea of taking over one of Aix's town centre parks as the venue - the show centred on the park's square pond. It's not a big show and the quality of the exhibitors can be mixed, but some of the stuff on show at the exhibition was great and it's all done with so much style, that the show itself is an inspiration.

One of this year's innovations was the introduction of outdoor air conditioning - a system of tubes suspended above the exhibitors' stands intermittently sprays a fine mist over the passing crowd - much welcome in 30 degrees.

Another new thing was a small showroom space put together by the Cote Sud team - I love those tilting Italian shutters.

And here's Lindsay appreciating the shade of a beautiful rustic cane roof.

Finally - a couple of detail shots...

Palette of Sorbets

We just had lunch in at Le Passage in Aix-en-Provence, prior to going to the Vivre Cote Sud home design show and all four of us couldn't resist the sorbets that we'd been watching passing buy - a 'palette des sorbets'.