Category Archives: Seasons

La Fête de la Lumière

This is annual event put on by the MJC in Puivert – a celebration of the Winter solstice and the return of the light. This year it took place on the 19th December – a while ago now, which is why it’s beyond time to publish this post. I love that the French (at least, locally) celebrate these pagan festivals. It says much of their connection with nature, which there is so much of compared the UK, and may also be something to do with the fact that they are (apparently) known as a nation of farmers – vs. Brits, which are said to be (by the French) a nation of shopkeepers!

The event itself is usually preceded by two or three afternoons of lantern making. Despite our best intentions these sesssions, just like last year, so once again we ended up hastily DIY-ing some lanterns at home on the weekend before the festival. Wanting to improve on our efforts of the previous year we tried doing it properly, which meant sticks and tape, PVA glue and tissue paper, except we used crepe paper, which really didn’t work as well. That aside, we ended up with passable lanterns and also had last year’s at hand as backup.

On the night of the fête, the event starts in the halle opposite the post office where everyone gathers to light their lanterns. Usually there is some sort of introduction with traditional songs, music, and then a procession from the village to the lakes. This is the highlight for me, but this year we missed it, unfortunately – so no photos other than those of us making our solitary walk along the same route a short while later. There some nice photographs on the MJC’s website which are worth a look.

After the short walk everyone gathers at the lake, where there is a buvette selling refreshments (vin chaud, chocolat chaud, and cakes) and a fire pit. Usually the organisers hand out Chinese lanterns that are lit altogether and sent off into the sky — a beautiful sight, if not a little concerning on the environmental front, but no forest fires were started, as far as I know.

This year, after the procession and the lantern-lighting – there was a spectacle centred around the lake, with an illuminated unicorn boat approaching the beach, with the dame blanche waving a torch bearer as he waded through the water to the short, delivering the light for the coming year (I presume that was the symbolism of it.) The dame blanche is a European and American legend (more about this on Wikipedia) as well as local one, as it is said that she haunts the ruined castle in Puivert, as she also does many other ruins across Europe. Despite being dead, she’s a busy woman!

Alongside the spectacle (which was hard to follow because DD kept trying to run off with her friends – a nightmare to keep up with in the dark!) there was music, a large open fire pit, and – later – some fire dancing and drumming. Both times we’ve been we missed the later goings on as it ends up being too late for the little ones, and often too cold too. We were lucky this year that it was a relatively mild night but still by 7pm they were ready to go home. So home we went.

Next year we will have to make sure we make it in time to the procession and the Chinese lantern lighting, since I think (with children in tow) that’s the nicest part of the event. We just need to be more organised – and also to say no to waiting for friends. (James’s idea. I’m over it.) One day we’ll be able to go with children capable of not getting lost, falling into the cold water, or being abducted by strangers, and then I hope to enjoy the evening a little more. For any parents of older children (or generally of a more relaxed disposition) or sans enfants, it’s a lovely evening, I’m sure!

As an aside, I’m always struck by the magnificent flyers for these local events, and this one is no exception. If you like them too, head over to www.angela-design.fr to see more of her work.

 

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Winter in the Garden

It’s December. It’s definitely colder than summer, but compared to our two previous years here so far winter is shaping up to be a much milder – and therefore, more enjoyable, winter. We’ve got sunshine most days, which is great and means we’re burning our way through the wood pile at a much slower pace.

One of the most amazing things – to me at least – about this time of year in France, is the way that things keep on growing, which I suppose, if you think that winter temperatures here are more like Spring temperatures in the UK, makes sense. So what’s growing?

Well, we have onions making light work of it in the veggie patch. We’re planning to extend the patch onto another piece of land next year so I decided to plant up the neighbour’s garden with easy to grow stuff that will overwinter. I’ve also set aside an area for hardwood cuttings, so have a row of redcurrants and blackcurrants, and another of hazel.

Red onions and the fleece tunnel – for spring peas and broad beans

Talking to a neighbour and reading in the Gardening with the Moon calendar (I have the diary version, called Jardiner avec la Lune), it seemed that November was a good month to sew peas and broad beans, so that’s what I did. My neighbour is very keen on permaculture, as am I, but I think it means slightly different things to each of us. She’s a bit obsessed with hummus at the moment. So after I cleared an area of the veggie patch and created a fleece tunnel, ready for planting the broad beans and peas, and showed it to her, she turned her nose up and suggested something a little less organised. So now I have broad beans in the tunnel and others stuck into the ground and marked with sticks. It’s game on. We’ll see which ones come up first and do best. While I think it’s a lovely idea to have a wild vegetable garden, there are advantages to having a dedicated patch. One being aerated soil. I’ll make sure to mulch the area designated to the wild bean patch, because without that those plants are going to struggle, for sure.

Pea shoots – since eaten by greedy slugs!

What else? Oh yes – flowers. It’s December now, remember. Two days after the shortest day, no less, and yes, there are still flowers.

The bed outside the front of the house, which gets hardly any direct sunlight at this time of year, has a nasturtium there going great guns. I planted some seeds in Spring and they’ve self-seeded three times since then.

Nasturtiums – they just keep on growing and flowering

Then there are the marigolds. At the front of the house they’re up against the wall, so as good as in deep shade. They barely get any light at all except for first thing in the morning for an hour, max, but still they grow and flower. It’s remarkable!

Marigolds – flowering away against this shady, cold wall

Roses are still growing too. I was never a fan of roses in the UK. There was always something stuffy about Rose Gardens, not least all the space waster around them! but here the roses are something else. The varieties I’ve seen – and smelled – locally are so vigorous, with stunning colours and strong scents. Quite different from many of the more ornamental varieties that I think dominate the UK. I like them so much I’ll be adding them to my garden, when I finally get one.

Other plants on my cuttings list include buddleja (there’s one on the way to the village), rosemary, lavender, and kiwi. The last three of those are best done in the spring. For the buddleja I just need to remember my secateurs when I’m walking past next time!

Food wise, we are still overflowing with the chard that came up all over the garden, a remnant from the previous green-fingered tenant. It’s very welcome at this time of year, so handy to be able to nip around the corner and come back with an armful of fresh greens. Another one for the permanent patch, when we get to it.

More onions and the never-ending chard

Knitting, Soup & Savoury Muffins

As much as I love the warmth of spring and summer, there’s something about the autumn light and the urge to wrap up, nest, and make warm, hearty food that makes me wonder whether I should really choose autumn as my favourite season.

The weather cooled all of the sudden just a week or so ago. Before that, luckily while my parents were visiting, we had some 20-degree days where it was warm enough to want to swim and perfect for picnics. Then the next day, just like that, it was 3 degrees. Almost overnight the leaves on the trees turned and the last courgette and tomato plants withered in the veggie patch.

The contrast between being in and out of the sun at this time of year is stark. On those 20-degree days it was glorious outside. The house we rent doesn’t have a garden. The garden is there but is owned by a neighbour and no longer connected to the house. We have permission to use it, which is great, but it means going out of the front door, onto the road, and around through the gate at the side. Also, not having direct access means there are no doors onto it and since that’s where the sun is, as soon a the sun starts to dip in the sky, this East-West facing house becomes cold inside. I’d say on the days with warm sun and cool air there can be a 10-degree difference between inside and out. Over the years that adds up to a lot of extra wood being burned!

With the cool air, the crunch of leaves underfoot, and a sewing room that is open to outside via an uninsulated storage room (grange) on the ground floor below, my mind has made the mental switch in to hibernation mode. At lunchtimes I’m craving soup over salad. On cool days I think of knitting woolly hats and socks rather than sewing summer dresses.

The only trouble is the two smalls rarely eat the soups I make. To my amazement both the recipes below got the seal of approval from DD, which is why I thought I’d better make a permanent record of them pronto! DS did all but throw his on the floor in protest. Oh well. It’s going to a long winter for him if he refuses to eat soup!

The savoury muffins recipe is thrown in at the end because it was also a bit of a hit. If you try and of these or have your own variations, let me know in the comments! Next time I make something I’ll try to add some pics.

Recipes

Squash/Pumpkin & Lentil Soup

Ingredients

Pumpkin or squash. Use whatever squash you have available (I used half a red kuri (hokkaido) squash and a piece long island cheese pumpkin.
1 cup of red lentils
1 onion
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 stock cube (I usually use chicken but for a veggie version just use a meat-free one.)
3 small carrots
2 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup of orange juice
A handful of fresh sage, chopped

Method

  1. Chop all the veg and soak/wash the lentils.
  2. Saute the onions and garlic in a deep pan until translucent.
  3. Add the squash and cook until starting to soften, stirring often.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir to cook through.
  5. Add the lentils.
  6. Add enough water to cover all the veg, then stir in the stock cube.
  7. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer.
  8. When all the veg is softened, add the sage.
  9. Whizz up with a blender.
  10. Add orange juice plus salt and pepper to taste (mine didn’t need salt because the stock cube was salty enough).

Cheesy Green Soup

Inspired after bumping into my neighbour, who was coming in from the garden with a basket of freshly picked leaves, I thought I’d try this soup on everyone at lunch time. To my surprise it was a success, measured by DD saying, “Well done, you cooked the right dinner, Mummy,” and eating it all up!

Ingredients

A good handful of young and small mallow (mauve) leaves
1 leek
2 cloves of garlic
1 medium-sized potato
1 cup of spinach (I used chopped frozen spinach, as it needed using up!)
50g of blue cheese
1 onion
A handful of fresh parsley
1 stock cube (I usually use chicken but for a veggie version just use a meat-free one.)

Method

  1. Chop all the veg.
  2. Saute the onions and garlic in a deep pan until translucent.
  3. Add the leeks and cook until softened, stirring often.
  4. Add the greens and stir to cook through.
  5. Add enough water to cover all the veg, then stir in the stock cube.
  6. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer.
  7. When all the veg is softened, add the parsley and stir to cook through.
  8. Whizz up with a blender.
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste (mine didn’t need salt because the stock cube was salty enough).

Breakfast Muffins (Bacon and Mushroom)

This one came about one morning when we realised we had run out of pretty much everything, in particular our usual breakfast of either pancakes or porridge.

I used this recipe from The Worktop for the base, with a few tweaks because, of course, I did’t have everything I needed. These came out well but the smalls didn’t like them. More for me and James then!

The great thing about muffins is the will freeze well, much like scones, so any leftovers can be stored for another time. I used to do this all the time when DD was small as muffins were a baby-led weaning favourite of ours but I don’t think I’ve made them once since DS was born. But now they’re definitely back on the menu. I just have to find a good combo that DS and DD will eat.

Ingredients

Muffin base
1 1/3 cups white whole wheat flour (also called golden wholegrain flour)
3/4 cup oatmeal
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 medium egg (it should have been two but I only had one, so I added extra milk and a squirt of mustard mayo)
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup oil

Filling
2 cups of chopped mushrooms
1 packet of lardons (back bacon would be better but it’s impossible to buy in France)
1 clove of garlic (it’s that time of year – garlic in everything!)

Method

  1. Set the oven to 190 degrees.
  2. Saute the mushrooms in oil until the start to soften.
  3. Add the garlic and lardons. Stir until the lardons are cooked through then turn off the heat and allow to cool.
  4. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  5. Mix all the wet ingredients together in a smaller bowl.
  6. Stir the bacon and mushroom mixture into the flour etc in the large bowl.
  7. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry.
  8. Spoon the mixture into a greased muffin tray.
  9. Place in the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes. They’re ready when a skewer or tooth pick comes out clean.
  10. Allow to cool a little or eat straight away.

 

 

 

 

 

What we did in October

After a busy return to real life after the holidays (September), we launched ourselves into a new phase in October and it has flown by with not a minute to spare to update the blog. So what have we been doing in all this time? Well…

We went to the park.

We walked. Some shorter walks together as a four and a longer one with friends.

Two young children and an adult walking on a rocky path through the woods
Walking the rocky path from the Roman bridge at Bugarach

We enjoyed the autumn sun and went to the free theatre festival, un pave dans la malle, which is just up the road. This year DD was old enough to enjoy a show and we saw a really funny one about a miniature circus with a terrible safety record (all the miniature circus creatures were killed off one by one!) Apart from the climbing inside a horse routine, which I think was a bit too much, it was excellent. A really good choice for the five year olds – and lots of adult jokes to keep us entertained. Or so I’m told. My French as it is I think a lot of the nuance was lost on me though so I probably enjoyed it on the same level as the kids. 

Circo Pirulo midway though their act
Circo Pirulo performing at Le pave dans la malle

We had visitors (my parents).

The usual.

We had a lot of problems with the car. It needed new suspension (or something), new tyres, and new brakes. It was VERY expensive, although we saved about 300% on the cost of parts thanks to Magic Mark (as I call him) and his generosity in buying and shipping parts to us from the UK for only a small markup. If you’re anywhere near to Huddersfield and drive a VW, Skoda, Seat, or Audi then look up IVS Huddersfield because their service brilliant.

I managed to get out on my mountain bike and ride a local event. I got a free beaker for the trouble but had to pass on the buffet after so I could get back and rescue James (he was ill and would have preferred me to stay home, I think

Lots of people with bikes by the sign up and refreshment tent at lake Bertrand in Quillan
Getting ready for the 15km at the Trois Quilles VTT event in Quillan

We had a lot of fun in the new bike park at Quillan, which thankfully wasn’t washed away in the terrible floods that were experienced in our area during this time.

The tragedy of the month of course being the floods, which washed away many roads and bridges, devastated communities and also took many lives. It reminded me of floods we had in the UK many years ago and also to be grateful that we live on a hill – and to add “make sure you’re not next to the river” to the land or house buying checklist! Floods can and do happen and living so close to the mountains colossal quantities of rain can fall at any time.

DD rounded off October with her first proper (as in, the first year she’s known about and been interested in) Halloween, complete with trick or treating. Boy do the old ladies of Fa know how to load kids with sugar. We’d heard that in years past they collected about 12kg of sweets and I’m sure that if the total was totted up this year would be on a par with that. She ate her own body-weight in sweets on the night itself and brought as many back. They’re in a cupboard, out of reach, and despite the best efforts of James and me to have one now and again, as well as of course letting the two smalls have some, we still have a full Tupperware of them. Still, she had a lot of fun and the makeup job James did on them both was excellent. Picture to follow! (once I can get it from James’s camera.)

And now it’s November.

Temperatures have fallen a bit and there’s been some rain but in between, so far, we have sunny days. It’s warm in the sun, so it’s a shame that we are living in this East-West facing house as we don’t get much benefit from it and it will stay that way now until next Spring. Needless to say the wood burner is on. We intended to wait until November 1st to light it but had to concede defeat on October 29th on a day when there was no sun and the temperature was in single figures. Chilly – and the house was starting to feel damp.

We have a lot on in November too – and are busy working away on house plans. At the end of next year the thermal study parameters for new builds change, meaning it will be more expensive to insulate a house. We need to find land before then and get a permit. Having our plans at the ready will make that easier. Aside from work, life, kids, etc. that’s our focus for now.

Useful links

Un Pave dans la Malle
An annual theatrical festival in Lieurac, Ariege. Over two days (the weekend) and everything free (except food and drink!)

IVS Huddersfield for Magic Mark (he can keep any VW going way past it’s recommended shelf life, even if the customer moves to another country!)

VTT Ronde 3 Quilles
A regular mountain biking event in Quillan. Routes are usually 15km, 30km, and 45km. There’s a very impressive buffet at the end. Entry gets you a beer and hotdog token too. And there’s the free beaker.