Jun 04 2009

Summertime

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Days, weeks, months have flown by. Spring has slipped silently into the lush green of summer. Apple blossom faded, roses prepare for their annual show. Will they perform in time? I gaze at them pleadingly. The garden open days loom close now. Will the Embothrium still blaze scarlet against the sky? Will the sky be blue or filled with rain and thunder? Will anyone visit, will there be enough cream teas? Will we get the photography exhibition hung in time? Are my photo’s good enough? Is my garden good enough; oh, oh, doubts, doubts haunt me in the early hours.
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On and on my mind races, thoughts tumble through my head jumbled up with anxiety about my father’s new found confusion as his hundredth birthday approaches, as I recover from an eye operation, as adrenalin and elation settle after the success of our village production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town” last month, as I fret about so many things which shrink back into proportion with the dawn.
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Serried rows of vegetables are standing to attention in the vegetable garden. Last years little box hedge plants have graciously grown big enough now to hold hands and encircle the herbs. Potatoes, blight-free so far, are sitting snugly in their earthed up bed. Broad beans begin to flower and French and Runners are striking out boldly up their poles. Peas peep somewhat coyly at their twiggy supports prompting me to cheer them on daily. Gladioli spears stand in rows like little scimitars and sweet peas rush ahead crazily missing their supports in their exuberance and strawberries glisten enticingly in the fruit cage Summer is surly here.
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Lambs, so fat and sturdy now, rush round trying to find their newly shorn mothers who wearily baa a gentle acknowledgement as they relax, cool at last… Dinky still unsure of her identity, lives apart from the flock limbo-ing under the gate whenever she gets the chance the in search of human company. Donkeys climb to the top of a well grazed Steep Field in search of the best grass, basking in sunshine and shedding their winter coats.

But it is not all good news. Last Friday the fox came down in mid afternoon and took all but three of my chickens as they pecked happily in the sunshine. A terrible silence met us in the evening when we went to close their house, the orchard full of feathers. Even dear Oddie, my funny long legged cockerel I hatched last year, lay dead in the grass, too heavy to carry away. Sadly we gathered up the bodies if only to deprive Reynard of a second helping. Now a net covers the chicken run and the survivors must stay imprisoned for their safety for a long while until cubs are grown and foxes forget about this convenient tea shop.

Last week we fled to friends in northern Brittany for five lovely days of relaxation and delicious food.

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We visited the local town of St Brieuc and the wonderful gardens of the fortified manor house La Roche Jagu which, built in 1405 by Catherine of Troguindy, dominates the valley of the Trieux River. After the devastating storms of 1987 the gardens have been wonderfully replanted to reflect the history of the estate. The ancient fish ponds, retting basins for the production of linen and hemp and ponds for watering the horses; all are surrounded by living willow fences. Wattle hurdles support the raised beds in the formal herb gardens while terracing, lime groves and pergolas link each space on the steep hillside. By allowing nature to scramble all around the formal gardens, a wild beauty prevails. It is a real triumphant balance of the formal and the natural in a dreamlike setting.
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Evelyne and Michael took such care of us in their restored medieval house bought a few years ago without a roof! The previous inhabitants for several decades had been cows and sheep. Now after enormous effort it is transformed to its former glory, amazingly and quite magnificently, by their own hands.

We relaxed in their galleried sitting room and fabulous old farmhouse kitchen where Evelyne effortlessly produced meal after wonderful meal in truly French tradition.

A leek and potato pie greeted us for lunch as we arrived a little wearily from a night on the ferry. That evening we feasted deliciously on Blanquette de Veau made memorable by the addition of dried morels. The following day a feather light terrine of courgette and sorrel sustained us until the evening when squid stew in “black ink” on an unctuous bed of soft Japanese style rice followed, then sliced apple and cranberries baked in sugar and butter sent us happily to bed.

On Saturday, after a lunch of carpaccio dowsed in dark green virgin olive oil and smothered in basil from the garden and freshly sliced paraggiano, we paused, visiting the local shop to buy wine and walking in the woods surrounding the house. At seven thirty friends arrived for supper. “Aperitifs” finished, we sat down to a feast of Gesire confits de canard on a bed of mache, which I grow in my garden in Devon, easy and delicious. And then came the rabbit.

Well, I get a bit English about rabbit, remembering all those little bunnies my daughter kept as a child. Stop, I told myself, you farm sheep, what is this sentimentality. Oh my, how delicious was that rabbit. Cooked gently on a bed of tomato, courgette, onion, garlic, celery, ground cumin, Dijon mustard and a bottle of white wine, yes, a bottle of white wine, no English tax on wine in France, and all finished with fresh mint and cream. Poor old rabbits, watch out!

After our wonderful day at La Roche Jagu, Evelyne miraculously produced roast wild duck on a Dijon mustard mash.

The next day Evelyne accompanied me on a flying TGV trip to Paris to visit my ailing Godmother. We returned exhausted, but what a rail system, eat your heart out First Great Western. That evening we relaxed by the sea eating moules and frites. I couldn’t believe we had sped across France and back so comfortably in one day.

Oh my, what a wonderful five days. The trains work, the TGV reminded me of the Shinkansen in Japan, the village shop built by the Marie, packed with terrific local produce, fresh pork sausages made right there , wonderful cheese, local wine. In St Brieuc the mighty Carrefour Supermarket, almost as big as a small town and indeed, somewhat overwhelming had a fish counter second to none. I could go on!

We drove onto the ferry happy and refreshed.
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