Monday, 29 June 2009

Col de la Core

Yesterday, we decided that would be up bright and early today to have a bash on the roadies at a circuit which takes in the Col de la Core. The Col has been on my 'to do' list for the past 2 years, so I was both excited and apprehensive about the prospect ... it is a fairly serious proposition on its own with the hardest gradient towards the top....... but we had decided to make things more interesting by combining it with a bit of 'cross country' on some minor roads through some totally unspoilt, picturesque scenery between Sentenac-d'Oust and Moulis, taking in the Col de Catchaudégué and the Col de Portech.
This 'cross-country' section turned out to be tough in its own right, with 20kms of undulating riding with some steep ups (over 13% in sections) and downs on narrow roads. We arrived down in Castillon not sure whether we could make it up to the Col de la Core, prepared to head down the road to St Girons and then back up the main road to where we had parked the car. However, after refreshments, we decided to crack on and tackle the col. The first 9 or 10kms of the 17.5km climb did not present any major problems, but the last 7 or 8kms were sustained, averaging a gradient of around 7%. The fact that the sun had made an appearance after hiding behind clouds for most of the morning did not help matters! However, thanks to steady fuelling with my SIS mix, I finally arrived up at the Col - the view back down to Castillon-en-Couserans made the effort worthwhile.However, Andy was not faring so well, had long since run out of water and was suffering badly from dehydration. I tanked it down the other side of the Col to collect the car and met him half way back up the Col. The heat of the sun have probably also contributed to a mild case of heatstroke. It had been a challenging ride all round. Sum total 74kms with 2258m of ascent.

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Potager progress

I am having trouble keeping up with the watering at the moment, as the heat of the sun is drying the soil out so very quickly! But still, progress is good. The first lot of peas have had their last pick and the plants will be pulled out this week but the second sowing will be ready for picking in a week. The Charlotte potatoes plants are producing loads of gorgeous, sweet-flavoured new potatoes, the spinach has gone to seed so we are using the last of the leaves with some homemade pasta this evening and more seeds will be sown this week. The last of the second lot of beetroot is almost ready to be pulled. The new beetroot seeds that I sowed just over a week ago are coming through as is the latest sowing of coriander. I have sown more mixed salad and will get round to sowing some red onion seed this week too. The first sowing of French beans are now up to two inches long and should be ready to eat in week or so the cherry tomato plants are producing tons of flowers and the fruit is settingI have at last got some flowers on the chilli and capsicum plants and the round and long courgette plants are showing fruitWhat a fantastic time of year this is! Tonight for dinner, we have had Tagliatelle al Pesto Genovese, made with Andy's homemade pasta, homemade pesto (slightly modified to include homegrown spinach along with the homegrown basil), homegrown peas and potatoes ..... and very scrummy it was too!

Saturday, 27 June 2009

The Pissou effect

Pissou is becoming known as a bit of a refuge for the exhausted and weary! My brother was out here at the beginning of the month for an all too brief visit, soaking up the Pyrenean environment and re-charging his batteries in preparation for the blueberry season ahead of him in the UK. Then mum arrived on Tuesday, in an exhausted state, desperate for some chill out and relaxation time. Fortunately, the weather has been kind this week and we were able to get up to the Port de Lhers to find and photograph some interesting Pyrenean flora. We enjoyed watching the paragliders while we were up there, as they swooped and glided around usOtherwise, it was a case of unwinding on the terrasse under the parasol as she wrote her 'memoirs', reading books and newspapers, enjoying barbecues, sleeping in and generally unwinding. She left today more energised and relaxed and ready for a return to a busy time ahead back in the UK. She isn't your typical 70+ yr old lady, my mum!

Otherwise this week, I had a brief blast on the roadie down in the Foix/Plantaurel area on Thursday whilst Andy was having his French lesson - 45kms/400m of ascent in 1 hr 45 which was fun. Hopefully we will be back on the bikes again over the coming few days as the forecast looks good with temps up to 30+ degrees and full on sun.

Monday, 22 June 2009


I have a number of unidentified insects and bugs in my potager and I have no idea which are goodies and which are baddies (apart from the tiny little jumping black insects which I know are munching my rocket and turnips). A couple of the beetle-type insects are really beautiful;Anybody got any ideas? The black and tan one is tiny, 3 or 4mm long. The beautiful red, black and white one is larger, maybe 6mm long.

Update - we have just discovered that the red one is the cabbage bug, Eurydema ornatum. Looks like we will have our work cut out controlling that one!

Update no. 2 - the main culprit appears to be the Flea Beetle, which, as its name suggests, is a tiny black jumping beetle which chews tiny holes in the young leaves. Fortunately, there are some home remedies that may help to alleviate their rampage, so I will be on to them forthwith!

Sunday, 21 June 2009

VTT ride with Pat

I popped over to Pat's this afternoon to do VTT mountain biking circuit no. 9 with her - supposedly 20km with 400m of ascent. I haven't been out on the bike since end of 2008, so I was raring to go! It turned out to be one of the hardest rides I have done, as witnessed by Pat (ahem!) ....Well, it wouldn't be a proper outing without the obligatory refreshment stop, now would it! We're hardcore, we are! It was actually a lovely circuit, where I had the recurring feeling of being on holiday, as we cycled along tracks, trails, paths and deserted minor roads, with beautiful views and picturesque little villages. It was a varied ride with some interesting steep muddy downhill sections adding a bit of spice. We actually covered just under 26km as our starting point was slightly different to the one suggested on the route card. It was fantastic to be back on the bike again. Can't wait until next time.

Friday, 19 June 2009

A mini update

OK, so it's tedious but I have had 2 trips down to St G today. The first was in the loan car this morning to collect the part from the breakers and drop it off at the garage. The second was early evening to collect the car. I think we were both quite stunned to see the old brake pads, which had cracked due to the heat when the caliper had seized on. Thank goodness we had been so close to the garage when the problem had occurred. The final bill for the replacement pads and for fitting the new caliper was way below what we had been expecting. Exceptional service at an exceptional price!

So, between the two St G trips, I was out in the potager, weeding and sowing more beetroot, coriander and lettuce. The shallots will be harvested this weekend before the voles attack them as they attacked and destroyed the garlic. In their place I will be sowing some autumn/winter crops or possibly more carrots or lettuce. The second crop of F1 carrots are reaching edible size as are the leeks, the cherry tomatoes are flowering well as are the French beans, the courgettes, the kuri squash and the second sowing of peas, the chilli peppers and capsicum are on the point of flowering .... so generally it is looking good :-D

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Car troubles

I took the car down to the Opel main dealer in St G on Tuesday and their diagnostic machine highlighted a problem which explained why the car had not been pulling at all well over recent months. They believed the solution would be the replacement of a particular part, which would cost us €350. Now, instead of just fitting the part and wacking us with the bill (as I am sure a UK main dealer would do), they fitted the part and advised me to go away and see if it fixed the problem before paying for it!! As it happened, the part did resolve the problem and the car has been driving like a Ferrari ever since - what a difference. So today, back down to St G to pay and to thank the fine chaps there for their excellent service. However, within 5 minutes of leaving the garage, Andy noticed a problem with the brakes which seemed to be permanently 'on' on one side. We promptly returned to the garage where they confirmed that the brake caliper on one side was indeed seized, fixing the brake pad against the disc, creating tremendous heat and a god awful smell! The part was not in stock, it would probably take a couple of days to get it in meaning we would be car-less over the w/e and it would cost between €300 and €400. Now, my mate Pierre is a one-in-a-million. Realising we were somewhat in la merde, he rang a chap who owns a breakers in the area and who just happened to have the part we needed. It would cost us just €60 and would be ready to collect in the morning for Pierre to fit in the afternoon. Not only that, but Pierre has loaned us a car too!! Now that is service the likes of which is very very rare. Impressed? We are most definitely!

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

Just random

Andy had another French lesson down in Foix this morning, so I dropped him off and then headed up to IKEA at Toulouse to get some much-needed bits and bats before returning to pick him up. We were home by lunchtime, suitably stocked up with fresh anchovies and sardines and some calamar rings from the excellent fish counter at Intermarché. Andy did a very light batter for the anchovies (there was some bière blonde in there somewhere!), flash fried them and then we had them for lunch on a bed of various homegrown leaves. Delish! BBQd Sardines and calamar rings for dinner on the terrasse this evening.

When we left the house at 09.00 hrs this morning it was very overcast, grey and just 15 degrees. Just 4 hours later we were sweltering in a 30 degree heat again! The potager has been crying out for some of my time and attention, so I have been popping out for half an hour at a time this afternoon to stake up the tomato plants, pull the last of the first crop of beetroot, collect some carrots ...and do some much needed weeding before the veggies get suffocated. The house is blissfully cool and a welcome relief from the outdoor heat. Tomorrow, I will hopefully be able to sow more beetroot, lettuce, carrots and coriander as my 'succession sowing' plans progress.

We have also had some great news today, as Françoise told me that her and Daniel are moving out tomorrow - FANTASTIC! The purchase of their new house has gone through much quicker than expected, so they will be on their way. We are both very much looking forward to having a bit more peace and quiet at Pissou.

Monday, 15 June 2009

This time of year ...

.... is all about scents and aromas. Here, at Pissou, the night-scented stock that I sowed in front of the kitchen window fills the air with the headiest perfume every evening. The elderflowers that I collected to make cordial and champagne the other day emit a sweet, delicate scent, especially as the champagne ferments. I cut the sage bush back this evening. It is in flower so the oils are at their maximum strength and giving off a pungent aroma. The scent of freshly cut grass, of jasmine in flower, of hay drying in the fields....

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Le Trail du Pays de Sault

After a night at Pat's, we headed over to Espezel in the Aude department this morning to take part in the Trail du Pays de Sault. On my way through to her's yesterday evening, the temperatures touched 36 degrees in Foix and that was at 6pm! The forecast was for more of the same today which would have made for a tough race which was billed as 18km with 488m of ascent. But I was fuelled up, feeling good and ready to go.

Contrary to forecast, this morning dawned overcast, cloudy and with the threat of rain - perfect! We couldn't have hoped for better. It was a small, very well organised event on fantastic paths, forest tracks and trails in a beautiful area to the east of us here. The run went well, but rather than the 17.8kms advertised, my GPS indicated 15.4kms with 472m of ascent. I crossed the finishing line in 1 hr 40mins, just a minute and a half ahead of Pat and 39th out of 48 finishers. My ITB and other muscles were starting to tighten considerably in the final couple of kms which slowed my progress, but all the same, I was pleased with how I had run, with being able to keep running even on the steady climb and with the otherwise steady speed that I was able to maintain.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Back to the Cols

We headed down to Foix first thing this morning. Andy was booked in for his first individual French lesson with Martine (which turned out to be a very positive experience which is great news), so I took advantage of being over that way to cycle from Foix back home, which of course includes the ascent of the Col de Port. I last did the Col de Port in January 2008 with Pat so it was about time for a re-match! The weather early this morning was perfect, late teens/early 20s, calm and with clear blue skies. The ride went well. I wore my heart rate monitor and my heart rate stayed steady and consistent throughout the ride, even on the ascent, although my legs reminded me that it has been quite some while since I did any climbing on the bike. Some stretching to be done this afternoon and hopefully I will be able to loosen up sufficiently to enjoy the Trail du Pays de Sault on Sunday which is an 18km trail race with 400m of ascent. It is going to be hot, into the 30s, so fuel and hydration will be critical. It should be fun!

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Produce update

The potager has made fantastic progress over recent weeks. Today, I pulled the first beetroot which we have now cooked and they are the sweetest tastiest beetroot I have ever had, which should hardly be surprising! We also had the first handful of Charlotte potatoes at the weekend, the pea pods are swelling nicely, the Early Nantes carrots are not far off being ready, the tomatoes are flowering and the first sowing of French beans are not far behind. The only thing I am battling with at the moment are what I think are thrips - tiny little black insects which are munching on the turnip leaves, the rocket and lettuces. If anybody has any good ideas as to how to control them without resorting to chemicals I would love to hear from you!

Elsewhere, the elderflower cordial has turned out OK and is gorgeous with white rum and some ice cubes. The elderflower champagne has yet to start fermenting. The rhubarb and mint gelée does not want to set very well for some reason, despite sugar with added pectin being used. Still, it's a lovely flavour. We also tasted the sloe gin the other evening while my brother was here (it has aged for 9 months) and it is just divine. When I say 'tasted', we actually polished off a bottle ... it is very very quaffable! 2 bottles left. Must make more next year.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Making stuff

I was up early this morning with my bro for the airport run to Carcassonne. The past couple of days have flown by and it has been really lovely to spend some time with him - it's only taken him 2 years to come out and visit! Hopefully he won't leave it too long before he visits us again.

This afternoon I have been busy harvesting elderflowers and have got a batch of cordial (recipe from a friend) and champagne (a River Cottage/Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe) started. It's the first time I have used elderflowers, so fingers crossed for a good result.

I have also got some rhubarb passing through the jelly bag ready for making rhubarb and mint jelly tomorrow. Again, I have never made it before but it sounds intriguing!

Monday, 8 June 2009

A balade with my bro

Despite drinking far too much and staying up far too late last night, my brother and I managed to get ourselves out for a brief balade this morning. The weather is very changeable at the moment, so I just took him over the Col d'Agnes with its impressive views and then down to Coumebière from where we followed the GR de Pays up to the Port de Saleix. As we made our way up, the storm clouds pressed ever closerWe made it up to the Port de Saleix........ at which point we turned tail and made a rapid descent back to the car, arriving back just as the first rain started to fall. It was good to get out, albeit briefly, and to give my brother just a small taste of what he can expect next time he comes to visit. Hopefully next time he will be able to stay a little bit longer than just 2 days!

Sunday, 7 June 2009


My brother arrived with us yesterday for a much needed short break from the UK. He is only here for a couple of days, but already the change of environment and relative peace of Pissou is working its magic - so good to see him able to relax and de-stress. Hopefully he will return to the UK with batteries somewhat re-charged.

We had a leisurely morning and then a stretch of the legs up to the Cap du Carmil from Peguere this afternoon, although the low clouds prevented us from showing bro the fantastic views from up there. We also popped up to the Etang de Lhers for a quick coffee on the terrasse overlooking the lake and picked some beautiful wild flowers on the way back downHopefully the weather tomorrow will be clear enough for us to get out for a walk higher in the mountains. Fingers crossed.

Thursday, 4 June 2009

Sorting it out

I may or may not have mentioned in previous posts about the problems we have had trying to sort out our health insurer's cock up on our health cover. Although I have been covered since the beginning of the year, they somehow managed to get Andy's details completely wrong. Finally yesterday I had a call from a real person who has taken charge of my file, has worked out their error and has confirmed that the necessary documentation for his cover will be in the post shortly. It's only taken them 6 months to work it out! But at least it is finally being dealt with.

Today, I also had a call from France pare-brise to advise that the new windscreen for the car has finally been delivered (it has had a small hole and 2 long cracks at wiper level for a week thanks to a flying stone). So a trip down to Pamiers this afternoon, where we left the car for the afternoon while we went out on the roadies for another lovely 50km circuit. It was hot (29 degrees) but quite pleasant while we were actually cycling. More quiet, well-surfaced country lanes and little villages ... an absolute joy. The fontaine in St Amadou provided a welcome cold water top up.On the way back, we encountered a couple of army transporter planes dumping a load of parachutists over a field just ahead of us near Pamiers... an impressive sight.
Time to crank up the distance/ascent now that the legs and bits n pieces have got used to being back on the bike again, I reckon

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

Just chillin'

It has been hot (high 20s) and sunny again today. The following photos pretty much sum up today's activities. I make no apologies!

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

Feeling better

Last Sunday, Andy and I had the intention of cycling up to the Col de Port, down to Tarascon (where we would have coffee and cake) before returning back up to the Col de Port and home. However, I only just made it as far as the Col de Port and that was in granny gear! I had nothing, but nothing in my legs, felt tired and devoid of anything remotely ressembling energy. It was a thoroughly unpleasant experience which worried me. Today was to be a bit of a test, to see how I felt on a flatter but still undulating circuit to the north and east of Foix. I filled my large water bottle with my carbohydrate drink and we set off. The weather was warm, in the mid 20s, but slightly overcast with a slight breeze which made for ideal conditions. It was a fantastic circuit of around 55km which took us along quiet country roads not far from where P&K live. I felt good all the way round and even the ascents didn't prove a problem. We arrived back at the car and I could easily have carried on, which was a fantastic and unusual feeling. I think the steady drip drip of carbs was the key to how I was feeling. Maybe my current diet of largely salads and BBQ fodder is not sufficiently high in the carbohydrates that my body needs whilst I am picking up the exercise again? Either way, this is the profile of the route which included 800m of ascent. Lovely. More please.