Monday, 31 August 2009

A change of scenery and guilt

Andy is making good progress with the new kitchen and has got the partition structure between the kitchen and dining room erectedbut he is discovering a network of creeping mould in the course of removing the sink unit and floorboards which is apparently leaving a heavy and very unpleasant stench of damp and fungus in the airHardly surprising therefore that I have a certain feeling of guilt at enjoying the following with my mate Gemma in the Alps....
But no, I really am best out of the way.... really ;-)

Friday, 28 August 2009

The big push

We have had a couple of big shopping trips to Brico Depot at Pamiers this week to buy supplies for the kitchen renovation and have come away with some superb value untreated solid oak doors (I have the linseed oil at the ready) for the units that Andy is going to construct next week from raw timber (that will be the final purchase tomorrow!), some excellent value solid beech worktops and some very realistic slate effect floor tiles which I am delighted with. I am heading up to the Alps to meet up with a mate for some mountain bike action on Sunday whilst Andy cracks on with pulling down the kitchen ceiling, rewiring, fitting new lights, pulling up the old manky floorboards, creating partition walls and goodness knows what other mayhem! So here are the 'before shots'

I am sure there will be 'in progress' shots next week and hopefully in 2 weeks time we should see the conclusion of 'projet rez de chaussée'. I can't wait!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Plasterboard progress

The new plasterboards were eventually delivered mid afternoon today and we wasted no time in erecting the 3 boards on the main wall and the board behind the fireplace on which some of the new tiles will be mounted. Already, with the new lighting and the boards up, a clean and bright space is emerging. We are now contemplating the new kitchen and kitchen floor which we will have to tackle as part of 'projet rez de chaussée'. Unnecessary complications exist thanks to the current uneven floor surface laid by the previous owners who were apparently incapable of pouring an even concrete slab when they created the sub floor. No surprises there then.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009


Yesterday, we headed down to Pamiers to buy some new tiles for the hearth, some more ceiling lights for the ground floor and various other bits and pieces for the renovation. While we were down there, we took the opportunity to re-acquaint ourselves with our mountain bikes and hit the 21km no. 7 circuit from St Felix-de-Rieutord but in the opposite direction to when I did the route with Pat and Kev a couple of months ago. It was hot and there was a small section where we had to get off and push, but otherwise if was fantastic to be back on the bike which is working much better with it's new disc brake setup.

Today, it has been wet and stormy. So a day indoors. The woodburner was detached from the pipe and put to one side. Then the old tiles were levered up without too much effort (thanks to the previous owners for using the wrong tile adhesive!) and the 'subfloor' (hah!) likewise removed. No surprise to see that every cheap shortcut possible had been taken when they did the installation/laying of the base for the woodburner, including sections of chipboard which appeared to belong to an old cupboard or something and which were damp and stinking thanks to the lack of waterproof membrane underneath the floorBy the end of the afternoon, we were down to base level having removed all of the old debris, a black waterproof membrane laid and a frame created into which we will be pouring the new concrete subfloor on which the new tiles will lie level. A busy few days ahead!

We were in the thick of the cloud during the early evening and were subjected to a torrential downpour which eventually cleared shortly before sunset to give some fantastic colours and views

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Projet 'rez de chaussée' update

After renovating two floors of the house (which has included complete rewires), you would think we would be used to the previous owners' electrickery by now. But no, sometimes people surpass even their already low standards. Perhaps they are trying to claim fame with a Darwin Award. Either way, Andy was somewhat pissed off today to discover the reason for the various small electrical shocks he has been receiving and also the strange readings from the multimeter and electrical screwdriver throughout the house. Ater testing each individual circuit in the house and detecting no individual problems, he reckoned the problem could possibly, maybe be this...?!
To cut a long story short, the connections from the fuse box to earth was the worst bodge job ever, leaving the house electrics in a dangerous state. Loosely wrapping the earth wires around the earth rod with a piece of tape is unforgiveable and the work of a complete amateur who had no idea of the consequences of his actions. Thankfully we were able to identify the problem and put it right by fitting a new earth rod and correctly attaching the earth cable to it - hardly rocket science but clearly beyond the capabilities of some folk. But at least the house is safe once again and our conscience will be clear when we come to sell on the house in due course.

So, after all those fun and games this morning, we cracked on with the ceiling plasterboards this afternoon and also erected the membrane on one wall and then the batons onto which the wall plasterboards will be attached. We will soon be impatient for the plasterboards to be delivered so that we can complete the job

Friday, 21 August 2009

Potager update

It's been a while since the last one.... at least a couple of weeks! But the potager has been keeping me busy and the dinner table plentifully supplied with all manner of scrummy fresh veggies. So here is a brief summary of the current potager situation;

The 2 aubergine plants have suddenly started producing some fantastic fruit which are long and thin and very tasty - I bought them as young plants and didn't make a note of the variety.... which was silly!
The chilli plants (2 varieties) have produced copius quantities of excellent quality fruit which will hopefully start turning red soon. I was unsuccessful in my chilli growing efforts last year so am particularly pleased with this year's production!
The three capsicum plants are likewise producing excellent and very tasty fruit which will hopefully start reddening soon.
The cherry tomato plants (gardener's delight variety) are dripping with ripening fruit. I have sundried around a kg of fruit which is now being preserved in olive oil with more to follow.
The parsnips are big enough to eat. I am pulling the odd one here and there but want to leave the majority in the ground until they have had a frost.
The courgettes are still producing fruit.
I have had 3 kuri squashes off one plant which are now stored in nets for later use.
The mystery squash/gourd plant has produced 5 really big fruit but I still haven't got a clue what it is! We roasted some for dinner this evening and it has a lovely flavour - somewhere between a butternut squash and a pumpkin and with the texture of a kuri squash - delicious.I should be picking French beans from my third sowing very shortly.
The cabbage plants have recovered well from the cabbage white catterpillar infestation a week ago. I found that tweezering off the grubs and then spraying the plants with 'savon noir' worked a treat.

Looking forward to the autumn and winter, I planted my 'Bleu de Nantes' leeks last week and they already seem to be well-established.
The autumn spinach is coming through.
The autumn carrots that I sowed a couple of weeks ago are making slow progress.
The spring greens are doing well.
I sowed some lambs lettuce today and also some more lettuce.
However, the turnips appear to be under attack from the persistent vole community which I am none too happy about :-(

I think that covers everything!

Andy has made progress on the ground floor today. We took the decision to remove the ceiling plasterboards as we needed to get proper access to the jumble of wires and cables that seemed to be appearing from all over the place. It turned out that several cables were not actually connected to anything! Others seemed to be taking convoluted and totally unnecessary routes to their destination so it has all been stripped back down to basics and rewired with the addition of two new ceiling lights in the centre of the room. It is much neater and safer. Tomorrow, the new ceiling plasterboard will go up, the plastic sheeting put onto the walls and the frame for the plasterboard will be erected. Then we just have to wait for the delivery of plasterboard which is expected on Wednesday.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Projet 'rez de chaussée' - ça commence!

It has been into the 30s again today. Too hot for doing anything much outside. So we finally made a start on the rather over-whelming task of sorting out the ground floor of the house. We haven't touched it since we moved in over 2 years ago and I would very much like to have transformed it into a cosier, cleaner space before the darker months are upon us. It is where we spend the majority of our time in winter, after all! The ground floor is made up of 3 separate 'spaces' which are the kitchen area, the 'sitting' area and the 'eating area'. We are starting with the eating area which we will probably use as the sitting area in the future.

So here is the obligatory 'before' shot
Looks superficially OK, but the stained pine wall pannelling makes the already dark room even darker, the lighting needs o be re-done and some damp-proofing work also needs tackling. Plus, underneath the ceiling plasterboard and the wall pannelling we discovered a mess of dangerous wiring (earth wires hanging loose, live wires not properly attached etc) ......held up by clumps of plaster filler and chunks of plasterboard. Very much the work of somebody who clearly didn't have a clue about the electrical standards that apply in France! So today, we pulled off the pannelling and removed a chunk of plasterboard and a load of filler from the ceiling and made plans for the next step. Clearly some rewiring will need to be done before we can apply a waterproof membrane/plastic sheeting up against the current air brick wall onto which we will fix a wooden frame which will then support plasterboard. The end result will be a moisture-tight, more even surface with wiring that will conform to current standards and improved lighting that will make a dark room much lighter. Watch that space!

After those efforts this morning, we pressed on with more preserving this afternoon. The Agen prunes in Armagnac are now jarred, I have made two jars of mulled pearsand Andy made some jars of lime marmalade
I really do need a bigger cupboard now!

Tuesday, 18 August 2009


I was chatting with somebody earlier today who is of the opinion that I must have been born with the genes of a squirrel as I appear to have an obsession with preserving produce at the moment. However, I am not consciously thinking of the winter ahead and am not particularly concerned about 'stocking up the larder' in preparation for lean times which is how, I am sure, a squirrel's mind would work! I am simply wanting to make the most out of the fantastic produce that we have available down in these parts and to experiment with different recipes and ideas. For instance, yesterday, we picked a pound of blackberries from down our chemin. We also have some nice windfall apples that I don't want to see go to waste. I then found an interesting recipe for 'blackberry and apple leather' in the River Cottage preserves book which I just had to try. Such an easy recipe ......blackberries and apples stewed down in just a small amount of lemon juice then passed through a sieve, the resultant puree then spread out thinly on greaseproof paper on baking trays and 'cooked' at approx 80 deg C for 12-18 hours until it just peels away .... a great, tasty snack for out on the hill! I have also used up a glut of courgettes to make courgette and ginger jam which is 'interesting' and also some fresh apricots to make apricot and nut jam which is to die for!

The Gardener's Delight cherry tomatoes are now ripening rapidly and I have a selection that I am in the process of drying in the hot sun on trays on the terrasse, ready to jar with olive oil for use in dishes during the winter. We will be making passata and homemde tomato sauce with any surplus over the coming weeks. Also, I am in the process of making 'Agen prunes in Armagnac' which will be a wonderful boozy treat during the winter. The pears that we collected the other day are ripening well and I have a 'mulled pears' and also a 'pickled pears' recipe earmarked for them! Love this time of year but I need a bigger larder/store cupboard!

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Andy is pregnant!

Well, how else can you explain his present obsession with cornichons (pickled gherkins)! It has got so bad that we came back from Saint-Girons market yesterday with 2.5 kgs of fresh cornichons which, after the essential drawing out of the water content over the past 24 hours, he has now jarred in vinegar and pickling spices. He somehow has to resist opening the jars for at least 2 months and then the cornichons will be ready for winter enjoyment! He's a happy chappy!

The vagaries of mountain weather

This afternoon, we have cooked. Almost literally. It has been up to the mid 30s again and impossible to spend too long outside without dissolving into a sticky, dripping, uncomfortable heap. But then, late afternoon, our saviour arrived - I watched, in anticipation, as it made its approach, its black bulk moving slowly, gradually in our direction from its birthplace in the mountains in the distance. It emitted a low grumble as it pushed closer. It took a couple of hours for it to be upon us, but when it hit, it did so with impressive force, sending down a veritable deluge which was accompanied by an impressive light display in the blackened sky and some deafening claps that truely rattled the windows as they bounced off the various hills which surround us. Yes, just another storm, but the wonderful thing about storms here is that in the space of just 2 hours, the temperature has plummeted by 12 degrees. That is quite a significant temperature difference! We can breathe again and have flung the windows wide open in a bid to clear the heavy air that has sat in the house since we were forced to shut the heat out this morning. Wonderful! However, less than 2 hours after the storm was upon us, the skies have already cleared in anticipation of more stifling heat tomorrow. That's mountain weather for you!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

This and that

It has been hotting up over the past few days here at Pissou with temperatures in the shade reaching 35 degrees here today, climbing to the mid 40s in the sun! All true to forecast, I should add. Which is why we have spent the past couple of days doing bits and bobs of manual work such as weeding in and around the potager, sorting out the two composting bins, mowing and transferring now seasoned wood from the front terrasse to the pig poke/wood store in anticipation of colder conditions in the months ahead (it may seem bizarre to be considering such things in the height of summer, but it cannot be too soon in these parts).

Today, we headed down to Saint Girons market for various bits and bobs and finally managed to find a lovely place at which to have lunch. Strangely (or possibly not), it was at a little place that we pass every time we do our main supermarket shop, just outside of Saint Lizier, but that we had not previously explored. It turned out to be one of the best meals we have had here, outside on a relatively peaceful 'terrasse' in the shade. My lobster and prawn salad was simply divine and the blackcurrant, raspberry and lime sorbet for dessert was just outstanding. Andy's more duck orientated salad also hit the spot so that is a restaurant to which we will be returning in due course.

The new terrasse is coming into its own as we are spending more and more time out here (I am writing on my laptop on the terrasse this evening) enjoying the open view and beautiful weather. It has transformed our notion of 'outdoor living' here and is truely a fantastic addition not only to the house but to Pissou in general. To end this evening's post, I would like to share this evening's amazing and colourful sunset with you - beautiful, n'est-ce pas?

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Damson and marrow jam

Yes, I know, it does sound like an unlikely combination but it has turned out to be a match made in heaven!It was a tedious job preparing the damsons, as, despite their external appearance, many had been infiltrated by maggots which was not particularly pleasant! But the healthier fruit and the homegrown marrow have gone together to produce a lush, deep red-coloured jam with the most wonderful plummy flavour that you only get from damsons. So if anybody wants the recipe ......?!


There is a little pear tree in front of M Benazet's house here. It has never been very productive, but this year it has suddenly produced a massive quantity of excellent quality fruit. We have just had a brief 'tree-shake' and have collected kilos and kilos (I am guessing between 30 and 40kgs!) of pears which we now need to let ripen naturally in a cool place before they are ready to use. I am tempted to have a bash at making perry but don't know what variety of pear we have and whether they would be suitable for that purpose. But it could be worth a try!

Monday, 10 August 2009


While I was away, the damsons on the trees around Pissou ripened enough to warrant a full on assault with some loppers and a collecting bag this morning! We quickly collected 3 kgs of fruit with more damsons set to ripen over the coming week or two.Tomorrow, I will be making marrow and damson jam which will be a first! However, this afternoon was chutney time. I made what seems to be a delicious River Cottage recipe for seasonal chutney in which I used half of the marrow that we took from the potager at the weekend, some windfall apples and some of the not yet ripe green cherry tomatoes also from the potager. The addition of some chilli flakes, ginger and a muslin bag spice mix of peppercorns, coriander seeds and cloves has given the mixture a warming 'zing'. I can't wait until it is ready to eat in a couple of months time.

Our neighbour Christine gave us one of her cucumbers and some tomatoes this afternoon. Andy chopped up the cucumber and pickled it in a jar with cider vinegar, a drop of sugar and a mixture of coriander seeds, black peppercorns, some dill and some brown mustard seeds. Should be nice in a week or two.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

While I was away....

....the veggies have had a spurt and, amongst them, a large mystery round gourd/squash which I don't remember sowing!! I must try and identify it.So we have a large marrow, a smaller marrow and a long courgette plus two round courgettes that I will have to do something with this weekend. The Gardener's Delight cherry tomatoes are at last ripening and are the most delicious, sweet, juicy tomatoes that I have ever tasted. Also, while I have been away, the chillis have had a growth spurt as have the capsicum and the aubergine will be ready for picking this weekend. Fantastic!

Friday, 7 August 2009

Blighty business

I have been back in the UK for nearly a week and time has gone so quickly. I have been at mum's in Dorset where we had my sister, husband and kids to entertain us until yesterday. The week has included celebration of mum's 72nd birthday (yes folks, she really is 72!!)... ... a visit to the very special Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour (must go back another day and spend more time there)...... a very heavy legged, steady 10km run on superb tracks and paths around Badbury Rings on Monday (for which I was rewarded with not inconsequential pain and discomfort next day), followed by a similar length 'run' on some lovely New Forest tracks and trails today accompanied by my son, Jamie. Again, legs of lead, heavy and stiff ..... getting a tad fed up of it now as it is demoralising and worrying! But still, it was good to get out and the New Forest ponies are in fine form.......and the tracks are just superb
Looking forward to more of the same next time I am in Dorset. Been lovely to spend some time with my laddy too and also his girlfriend who I had not met before. But time to go home, where I gather it is raining and stormy! But it won't last ;-)