Monday, 28 May 2007

Transhumance in St-Remy-de-Provence

May 28th is the day of the annual Transhumance Festival in St-Remy-de-Provence. This festival celebrates the hundreds of years old tradition of driving sheep from Provence where they've over-wintered, to the Southern Alps where they'll spend the summer. This happens because summer in Provence is too harsh for sheep - the grass becoming dead and dry in the heat - and the winter is too harsh in the Alps - the grass getting covered in snow.

Nowadays the sheep are transported by lorry, but in the past the shepherds would drive them along ancient drovers roads to and from the mountains over a period of several weeks. They always left at the end of May to return by the end of October. Traditionally they would gather in such towns as St-Remy in order to travel together and thus better protect their flocks from rustlers and wolves. Thus each May 28 this spectacle is re-enacted. About a thousand sheep and accompanying goats are driven along the main ring around the centre of St-Remy by people dressed in traditional costume, many of whom are still working shepherds or involved in sheep farming in some way.

Sunday, 27 May 2007


My haul from the garden last night - artichokes, broad beans, the first handful of new potatoes and a bunch of mint.

The potatoes were a trial lifting to see if our drought ravaged potatoes are looking as sad beneath the ground as above it. Fortunately the answer seems to be know, but I'll leave them a few more weeks to develop now that the watering system on the potager is functioning again.

The rest went into a pasta 'Primevera' along with other fresh veg bought at the farmer's market in Velleron the other day.

Pasta Primevera

For six of us...

A desert bowl each of shelled broad beans, fresh peas, and small courgettes about 10cm long and cut into 2cm slices
6 artichoke hearts, trimmed and de-choked
A good handful of fresh mint
5/600g Pasta - Orecchiette preferably
Olive oil
Nut oil
White wine
A lemon
Lemon juice

To serve - coarse sea salt, ground black pepper, Parmesan

Start with the artichokes - I'm not going to tell you how to prepare them because there are loads of descriptions for this process already to be found on the internet. Try this one from Sam Breach's Becks & Posh (rhyming slang for nosh) blog. The secret really is lemon juice. When you've prepared one artichoke heart, chuck it into a bowl of water laced with a good squeeze of lemon juice to stop it discolouring.

For this recipe, cut the artichoke hearts vertically into quarters. Boil them for 5/10 minutes until they are soft enough to pierce easily with a sharp knife. The ideal finish is to blacken them slightly on a barbecue or grill pan, but if this isn't an option, fry them 'til they crisp up slightly in the oil about to be used for the courgettes.

So your artichokes are ready. Your beans and peas and courgettes are all prepared. It doesn't take long to bring the whole thing together now, so it's time to put the pasta on. Bring a large pan of water to the boil, salt it generously and pour a good glug of olive oil onto the surface. Chuck in the pasta and cook it at a rolling boil until 'al dente' (soft but still chewy, not reduced to a pulp!).

While the pasta is cooking, the broad beans and peas will also need a quick boil (you can use the water you just boiled the artichokes in). 5 minutes should be the maximum if the broad beans are young and delicate as ours were last night. If they're a bit older and tougher, let the beans have a 5 minute start over the peas.

(A note about peas - fresh ones really are better than frozen in this case. Their texture is so much better than the soft, frozen ones.)

As the pasta, beans and peas boil, fry the courgettes in a shallow pan on a high heat in olive oil with a dash of nut oil added and a sprinkling of salt to draw out their flavour. For a little extra 'zing' try adding the grated rind of the lemon too. When they are a little browned and crisped, chuck a slug of white wine into the pan to deglaze any pan juices and boil it off, before tossing in the artichoke hearts for a quick final heat through.

About this time, the pasta should be cooked, as too the beans/peas. Toss the drained beans and peas in with the courgettes and artichokes. Drain the pasta and return it to its cooking pan along with the vegetables. Toss them all together.

Pull the mint from its stems and chop it roughly. Then as you spoon the pasta into a suitably beautiful serving bowl with a slotted spoon, sprinkle chopped mint into the mix as you go. This avoids tossing the pasta in the serving bowl, which always seems to result in the pasta rising to the top and the vegetables sinking to the bottom.

Finally dress with a drizzle of good quality olive oil and the juice of the lemon and serve with crunchy rock salt, coarse ground black pepper for those who require further seasoning and Parmesan cheese from which your guests can cut shavings with a potato peeler.


Try adding asparagus tips or/and green beans. Try it later in the summer with roasted cherry tomatoes, toasted pine nuts and basil - we will and I'll share the results here.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

That Avignon Shot - Now with added sunset!

Yesterday I was in the right place at the right time and returned to the spot on Ile de la Barthelasse from which I had taken my previous shot of the Pont d'Avignon and the Palais des Papes. This time the warm evening sun from the west just added that extra punch - great reflections too.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

Poppies in the Vines

Driving home this afternoon, I spotted this abandoned vineyard full of poppies just outside the village of Sablet.

Lilies in the garden? Lily's in the Car (just!)

I currently have a house guest. Lily is our friends Raymond and Arnaud's dog. They're away for a week or so, so I'm looking after Lily. Today we were out in the car and I couldn't resist grabbing these shots of her in the wing mirror as she leant further and further over my shoulder to get at the fresh air rushing past my open window. (The windows in the back don't open.)

Monday, 14 May 2007

Wet, wet, wet

"Plant these before the rain comes on" said Jo-Jo, inviting me the to take as many tomates Roma (plum tomatoes) plugs as I wanted from the tray that he was holding. I reckon the tray had once held at least 200 little tomatoes but Jo has put about 20m into his potager, which at 4 per metre I reckon makes about 80 plants. (He always has a glut!) The rest he's sharing with me and the mechanics at his son-in-law's garage.

But the clouds were gathering for a storm. "You should profit from the rain and get them in before so that they get well watered in", he explained.

So dutifully back to my garden, where, fortunately, I had a bed that I'd recently weeded. The clouds were getting darker and it was starting to spit.

A lightning fast forking over was matched by a soundtrack of thunder. Then just as the first little tomato dropped into its little hole, the heavens opened! (And I'd scooped up over a dozen!) In they went, at a speed even the local field workers would be impressed by, but not fast enough to save me from getting completely drenched.

A moment to remember with our first home grown tomato salad of the summer.

(This is bonus that goes along with growing your own vegetables - not just the great flavour and sense of satisfaction, but the fact that consuming them generates memories of planting them and caring for them, of nurturing the sickly ones and standing back amazed at the rude health of the rest. I think a similar thing can be said for wine bought direct from the vineyard. As you drink it, you recall the place where you bought it, the setting of the vineyards, the weather, the conversation with the vigneron and it all adds to your enjoyment. That's added value that a supermarket can never offer.)

By the way, 10 minutes later it stopped raining!

Saturday, 12 May 2007

Seeking the Quintessential Avignon Shot

I've been looking to take a good, sums-it-all-up, shot of Avignon for our new web site. The other day I took this from Isle de la Barthelasse on the Rhone between Avignon and Villeneuve. It's got all the stuff - the Pont d'Avignon in front of the Palais des Papes. I think I'll go back in the early evening and shoot it when the sun's warmer and the shadows more defined. Watch this space...

And at the same time I got a nice bollard!...

Thursday, 10 May 2007

Lilies in our Garden

Arum lilies photographed in our front garden this morning, just in front of the fountain that I created from an old stone drinking trough. There are about 10 flowers on it each around a metre tall.

Up and Running

This is the first maison d'être blog.

Because blogs are a good way of keeping in touch with old friends and making new ones, and because we like to keep in touch with old friends and make new ones, we thought that this would be a good idea.

Over the next weeks, months and (we hope) years, we intend to use this blog as a way of keeping our friends and clients up-to-date with what we're up to and what's happening at Mas des Grand' Terres.

We'll write about our lives, how the house and garden are developing, events in the area, what we've been cooking, reviews of our favourite wines and anything else that seems relevant.

We hope that this will become a two-way thing, not just a way of talking about ourselves, but the catalyst for dialogue. We want you to join in. Suggest other ways of cooking beetroot. Share our excitement with our new path. Show us your baby photos. Keep in touch.

I'll leave it at that as an opening. I now need to find out how to add photos so you can see how well our lily is doing!