Thursday, 9 October 2008

Village de Vaux Les Vendanges

Today the villagers went to their respective vineyards.
Since we arrived in our hamlet five years ago, we have never been sufficiently confident to intrude into the annual rural ritual of harvesting the grapes. Last year using the long zoom lens of my SLR camera I secretly took photos from my bedroom window.
This year it seems as if we have been accepted into the community and having a sense that our neighbours are our friends we thought we could enquire as to whether we could take photographs and exhibit them here on Sweetpea's web-blog.
We asked politely and they courteously and graciously said that they did not mind being famous and certainly were not inclined to being kept TOP SECRET!

At the first vineyard there was much good humour when Big Feet our cat met Gin the young Border Collie, and evidently they played together on the tractor until noon. The grapes were looking good to our uninitiated eyes and tasted sweet. Monsieur DT arrived carrying a beautiful old wicker basket containing bottle and glass. Captain Sensible was treated to a glass of the red stuff for it was the morning aperitif for the workers.
Unfortunately our camera problems caused us to miss several photographic opportunities but once resolved we moved onward to the second vineyard where our vine guru Monsieur R and his wife Madame B, cousin and friend posed proudly in the afternoon warmth of sunshine. A bag was found and stuffed with bunches of grapes to eat with our cheese. Our vine guru has been consulted on several occasions in the last five years. In our first month of temporary residence he demonstrated how to prune our 50 year old vine and recently he advised us about it's maintenance as now it is in the shelter of our porch it is less exposed to the elements.
The mini-tractors are set-up to carry vats for the grapes and the grape crushing machine. Everything is in order. Putt Putt Putt go the tractors. Listen to the crunch and crush as the "moulin de raisin" is turned. When the work is done, the country folk go home. Putt Putt Putt past our house, down the lane to home where grapejuice will be transformed into wine. Some may provide bernache to drink now, or be made into wine jelly confiture. Most will provide the daily glass of reward and nourishment.
There is a welcome and a warmth in the fields of France and much camaraderie in sharing food and wine. We are privileged to know such company!

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

October opportunities

We have started to help the residents of our village to learn English whilst we learn French. It is really fun although it has initially taken quite a lot of time to prepare activities because we did not know who would arrive, how many people there would be, and what levels of speaking, listening, reading and writing English they would have. Everyone is very friendly and laughter is a feature of the evening. By November we have 14 adults!

We've been helping with the children"s group for over a year! This term there were just 4 children in the first session of the activity group. With 3 helpers this was brilliant! Each child and each adult is making a "Bonjour" plaque. The children loved working with the salt dough and next week we shall paint and decorate the wooden plaques.

Renaissance and Traditional French dancing has started. We danced for several hours on Saturday afternoon and were rewarded with gateau to celebrate Hannah's 17th birthday.

My piano teacher wants me to learn a piece by Scarlatti and also a piece by Beethoven. I'm still practising pieces from the film "The Piano", composed by Michael Nyman. I just get lost in the sounds and wish my piano was better. I would love to have a Steinway grand piano placed by white voile curtains against a window from which there is a view of the sea or the mountains! Dreams! Her children are learning English and have made a lot of practice and enjoy correcting our French.
As I write this I'm listening to a discussion about Chopin's Ballade No 1 in G Minor being played on the BBC and I'm in tears!! My piano teacher has a recording of that and other pieces on her new CD for sale at 12 or 15 euros

Chopin's Ballade No 1 in G Minor
Tuesday 7 October 2008 13:30-14:00 (Radio 4 FM)
Repeated: Saturday 11 October 2008 15:30-16:00 (Radio 4 FM)

It's a programme called SOUL MUSIC. It is a series exploring famous pieces of music and their emotional appeal. The pianist Peter Donohoe explains how he practices sometimes 8 hours a day on attempting to perfect this technically demanding and emotionally turbulent piece of music.
After our arrival at the Salle des Fêtes and drinking morning coffee or fruit juice we walked 14km uphill, through the forest of Lesigny to the Chateau d'Alogny and downhill to an aperitif. Others stayed for lunch but I don't care for Choucroute and Charcuterie! At mid point on our walk we enjoyed a Casse-Croute (literally to break the crust). The tables were laden with a variety of pork patés, brie cheeses, baguette, broyeau biscuits, dried figs, apricots and prunes, chocolate, coffee, wine, fruit juices, and water.

After our own lunch and a rest/sleep we ventured out again into the wind and rain to the Garlic Festival. Most of the "car booters" had gone home but we listened to a brass band, and bought some garlic and onions. The ground is so hard that I'm not sure if we'll be able to plant any! Evidently garlic should be planted on the shortest day and harvested on the longest!

We took Anthony a home-made chocolate birthday cake and encouraged him to blow out the candles! He's 23! Here's the recipe:

PARTY CAKE adapted and simplified from a recipe by Jamie Oliver

3 tablespoons of cocoa powder
200g castor sugar
200g butter
3 eggs
200g self raising flour
1 teaspoonful baking powder
200ml double cream but I used crême fraîche
How to make it!
Preheat oven to 180°C
Prepare two 20cm cake tins. Spread a little margarine, butter or oil on the tins.
Cream the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Mix the cocoa powder with a little warm water.
Add it to the butter and sugar. Add the eggs. Add the flour and the baking powder. Beat altogether. If you wish you can add a handful of flaked or ground almonds.
Divide the mixture into the two tins. Bake for 25 minutes. Leave to cool. Remove the cakes from the tins. Spread crême fraîche onto the inside of each cake.
Scatter fresh raspberries onto one side and sandwich together. For Anthony's cake I used home made cherry jam. Yummy!!!!! Thanks Jamie!
If is not all eaten then keep it in the refrigerator.
We made green tomato chutney using 2kg tomatoes, 1kg onions and 1 kg apples and unfortunately burnt batch 2! Silly me!! Captain Sensible also made some onion chutney.
We also collected more apples from a friend's garden, so now we'll have to make some jam or more chutney, bottle purée and cook cakes and pies because they will not keep through the winter and we still have not got a freezer!
2kg chopped green tomatoes 1kg sliced white onions 1kg peeled and chopped apples 1500ml red wine vinegar 1500g sugar (a mixture of muscavado, soft brown or white sugar) 2tsp salt 2 tsp ground ginger 1 tsp nutmeg 1tsp black pepper 1/2 tsp allspice.
Put all ingredients into a preserving pan (not an aluminium pan) and boil then simmer until reduced by almost half then boil rapidly until thicker. Fill clean, dry, warmed jars to the level of the rim of the jar. Stir to remove bubbles from the jars. Put lid on and seal tightly. Keep for several weeks or months before you eat with cheese or patés.
NB. This makes a very large quantity. Adjust the amounts of fruit according to the size of your pan!!!