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May, 2010:

Fête du pain 2010

Set just outside the village in the small hamlet of La Chagnalle, many of the villagers turned out for the annual Fête du pain.

A small affair held in a tiny hamlet that’s part of our village commune. The fête revolves around bread with a number of sideshows. A small vide-greniers selling the usual array of bewildering junk at infeasibly high prices. A display of old agricultural machinery and a display of… plant mulchers!

All a distraction, the main thing is the bread. Two small village fours are running and making flatbread or toasts for the repas that was coming up at lunchtime or – and my fave – some boules made from levain.

Again I’ll not write a war and peace on the proceedings but let the slideshow do the talking.

We bought a couple of slices of a rich Apricot stuffed flan for €1 and a Boule of Pain that we’d watched come out of the oven and be delivered by a jeune-fille in a rickshaw and it was complete with a rusty nail stuck in the crust. I like my bread with a bit of chew but that’s pushing things! Still, it was (once dusted off) a fabulous loaf. Crusty, glossy chewy interiour and loads of flavour. Excellent stuff.

before and after

Fleurs du Jardin.

A quick post, apropos of not very much at all… other than to say it pays dividends every once in a while to stop and smell the flowers.

A few brief minutes trolling around the garden camera in hand turns up a treasure trove of early summer blooms. A triumph of massive, beautiful Clematis, Iris and Lillies are looking spectacular.

Small snaps below, click each one for the original and the full size images are on flickr.

clematis 3

clematis 1

clematis 5

iris 1

iris 2

canna 1

iris 3

Chucky Hilton Mews

An extension to the original Chucky Hilton ( parts one, two and three). We’d made a fundamental mistake with our first hen that went broody – we allowed her to stay in the main coop with the other hens. Only when it dawned on us that the chicks wouldn’t be too able to negotiate the patented chick-a-ramp did we decide that action was needed.

A new broody box and accompanying run!

chucky hilton mews

Making the best of what we found on a trip to the recycle centre to drop off some old scrap we ended up discovering an old solid wood chest of drawers. Too good to leave behind it came home for a little cabinetry and has been converted to a des-res for broody mothers and their new hatching chicks.

A quick lick of paint, a run created using some new wood and recycled chicken wire and a chance to use an air compressed nail gun (uber boys toy!) and the new Chucky Hilton Mews is ready to go.

Bit late in the season perhaps as we’ve already hatched 32 chicks (and one Duck!) so far this year but it’ll serve us well for the next few batches as hens are continuing to go ‘broody’

Une petite surprise – plus des abeilles

Busy in the garden tooling around making a new chicken house for our broody hens and Joan calls out – “Adrian, something’s going on with your bees… is that a swarm?”

They have all been exceptionally active since the weather has turned and in the last few weeks we’ve had them gathering flowers from chestnut and maples. In the last 5 days all of the Robinia has been alive with bees – an exceptional year for flowering trees.

Swarm? No chance. I think I’ve done everything right. Given them new frames of foundation, new supers for excess honey. Last inspection there were no queen cells so things were rocking along. A very strong colony in one hive and I’d decided to split that and grow on another colony. The work was scheduled for Sunday, two days away.

So I suit up and go and have a look. Feck-a-doodle-doo. It looks like they are making moves to up sticks. This, for a bee-keeper could be bad news. Your bees have raised a new queen (or queens) for reasons best known to themselves the queens take flight, hop on the good foot and do the bad thing whilst in the air and then go and search out new digs.

So. Caught them having bee-sex and then watched them land in their *thousands* on a nearby shrub and that’s it. RESULT!

I had a ‘ruchette’ ready to rock… new frames of foundation, old empty cells ready for a queen to lay eggs and a frame full of spring honey. So, all that was left to do was jump in and catch them.

Easy. Peasy. Lemon. Squeezy.

Checked the old hive. All fine, tons of frames of brood – they’ll be fine. Checked my second hive. CHOCK FULL OF HONEY. Dark, heady, aromatic – I suspect the very best spring honey from our fruit trees, chestnut, maple and acacia.

Off to the bee store next week for new hives. New supers and it’s time to look for an extractor.

Yoda, Dracula and Geisha Girls …

what do all these have in common ?

They were all part of the 78th Fetes de Pentecote de Parthenay.

We visited, with a couple of close friends, on the Sunday just after lunch, expecting to see the cavalcade through the town – but as I had misread the programme we were too early.  So, there was nothing for it but to wander through the town, ending up at one of our favourite bars for a glass of tasty, refreshing draft beer.

We were then entertained by two groups of musicians who were wandering through the streets playing some catchy jazz tunes.  It only seemed polite to stop around for another beer and enjoy the atmosphere and music.

After the bands had wandered off through the streets playing their instruments, we wandered back towards the car.  A crowd had appeared at the crossroads and were all seated on the steps.  We stood around to see what was going on.

marching band

A couple of clowns tootled around in their comedy car and then a marching band played some tunes for the crowd. After that came some young majorettes, tossing their batons and doing their thing.   Then the most amazing thing I have ever seen – a group of young men and women, all dressed in heavy costumes.  The men in sheep skin gilets and the women in full skirts with petticoats and fitted blouses.

What is so amazing about this? –  besides the temperature nearing the upper 20s is the fact that they were all walking on stilts about 1.5 m high!

Stilt Dancing 1

They all then got into formation and started to dance, hopping from one leg to the other and spinning around at unbelievable speeds.  At one point, one dancer did the splits – on stilts ! – I kid you not.   A couple did tumble but just hopped back up as if it was the most natural thing to do –  fall from a height off a piece of wood you happen to be stood on.

Still shaking our heads in disbelief we returned home and had an impromptu bbq.

The following day Adrian and I returned back to Parthenay to watch the cavalcade.  The weather was even hotter and the streets packed with people awaiting the procession.  Kids had their ammunition ready, bags of confetti to throw at the floats as they passed by.

As is usual for these things, it was running late – an hour and a half late.  There were 9 floats in total, each followed by a group of musicians all playing their own genre of music.  The most memorable being :-

Le Japon – a Japanese tea house full of  geisha girls with ninjas and samurai escorting them.

La Guerre Des Etoiles –  Star Wars  – with a truly awful depiction of Yoda and C3PO but a cool tie fighter and Jedi Knights escorting the float.

worlds crappest yoda

Dracula – witches, ghouls, steaming cauldrons and lots of blood – all the Halloween costumes dusted off for this float!

Even though it was stifling hot, everyone was enjoying themselves and giving their all.  It is so great to see how much effort and pride each group had put into their floats.


And finally …

The funniest thing of the day – the small boy sat next to me took a fist full of confetti and threw it into a tuba player’s instrument as he marched passed.  For some reason the player had a sense of humour failure but the crowd rolled around laughing.

Long time, no see.

Five years of blogging and we pretty much keep things to an even formula, little snippets of life in France, stuff I muck about with in the kitchen, work on the renovation etc. etc. I’ve mentioned in passing that we get visitors – all friends and family – and a great many at that. Our first year here we had fifteen sets of visitors, this year just eight scheduled. It’s a part of living in France that we love – and it’s always fun to play host. Don’t think we’ve ever really focussed on a specific visitor until now…

This week just gone though… our furthest travelled visitor was most welcome. Our old friend and colleague Carol made the trip from Johannesburg to Bellebouche. So much to show and share, a lot of catching up to do. I’ll not drone on and on – rather just tell a story with pictures. Please, take a look at the slideshow because, after all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

So – a magical four days for us and a great chance to reconnect with a dear friend. It’s been nine years since we were last in Africa and during the long cold winter thoughts often turned to memories of safaris, sundowners and Christmas day BBQs by the pool. Too long to wait and time to go back soon I think.

Minor panic.

Up at 5:30am this morning to let the birds out. Eleven little chicks who have hardened off outside have had the run of the back garden for a couple of weeks now so they’ve never been a worry.

Some very small week old chicks still sitting under their clucking (and pecking!) mother hen but they’re coming on strong and she acts as fearsome guardian. Funny to think that this magnificent mother hen was the very weakest of our first hatch last year and I spent days fretting that she was going to keel over at any second.

Opened up the chucky hilton for the rest of the adult birds and then back off to sleep. By the time I’d come round proper and made the morning coffee for us both… Joan had disappeared.

A few minutes later. Bad news. Four chicklets missing from the back garden. Seven of the eleven found cowering in the bushes and our neighbors cat (”TLC’) circling  menacingly. He’s a champion hunter and principal nemesis of our garden moles – he has a funny personality and is chief playmate for our kitten so we can forgive his indescretions when he breaks into the house to steal food.

But, was our forgiveness being stretched too far this time?

A frantic search for the missing birds. No sign. No feathers. No blood.

Wait for two hours to see if they reappear. Still no sign. Time to mount a proper search party.

Found them all in the end, safe and sound in the next field where they were all silently roosted up under some cover – they had the good sense to go to ground when the heat was on.

It did make me think though – ultimately we’re raising these animals for the table so their fate is sealed but our level of care and compassion for them when they’re growing up means… well, I wouldn’t want them to come to any undue harm.

TLC’s reputation is saved and by not chowing on them he’s redeemed himself, he’ll be welcome back once more.

Bird versus Machine

Well, it has been an interesting year so far, with regards to raising our own table birds.   After the fantastic success last year with our new incubator and the resulting 18/21 eggs hatching – 3 turning out to be non fertile – we were looking forward to the same outcome this year …


Goodness gracious, great balls of fire

It only seems like yesterday when after a sleepless night a howling gale threatenend to huff and puff and if not quite blow the house down then at least blow the roof off. We came through Tempête Xynthia mostly unscathed. The roof just about stayed on and repairs are now booked in for June – looking forward to that. There is a brief delay whilst our French specialist slate roofer travels to England to see Mark Knopfler!

In the aftermath we helped our neighbour with the onerous clearup at his place and 30 mature evergreen trees each of which were a good 15M tall were summarily lopped up and a great many carted back here for additions to our firewood stash

A new chapter in the clearup proper when, on Thursday – and with special permission from the Maire – a small fire was lit.

First off, for scale… the firestarter stood next to his vanquished foe.

Twisted firestarter

Twisted firestarter, yeah!

Great balls of fire - beat a safe retreat

Time to beat a hasty retreat

Apres alumage – leggit!

And off it went.

Great balls of fire 2

Great balls of fire 3

Great balls of fire 4

We were quite some distance yet could still feel the searing heat from the blaze. It was all we could do to pull up a chair and sit and sip on a cold beer! Strange thing is, that was just half of the brush. The heat from 50M away was intense and much of the downwind paddock was scorched like a bomb had gone off. Impressive.

AHA Big Brew Day 2010

What fun! Finally collapsed into bed at 11pm last night shattered after a long day making (and drinking!) beer. Our portes-ouvertes for friends and family as part of the AHA Big brew-day was a bit of a giggle. 16 people fed and watered and we made Scottish 80/- Beer.

Big Brew - Ingredients table

From grain to glass

First off, set out your stall. I made a small table showing the whole process of malt manufacture – from germinating barley, through to kilning and the assorted building blocks of flavour that come from the different roasts.

Home made crystal malt is in the mill, to the back the large white pale contains 20 litres of an English Mild ale that dad and I made together earlier in the week. We’d gathered loads of hops from the nearby river last year and they went into that brew. It was bubbling away merrily.

Jars of malted barley

Assorted malted grains

Outdoor brewing rig

Brassage dans le jardin

The rig set up and ready to brew.

Outdoors brewing is much more carefree than doing it in the kitchen! No bother with splashes and steam. Left to right. Finest Charentaise water from the Lac du Cebron. 50 litre boil vessel on loan from my brew-buddy Yann is sat on top of my xmas pressie – a 10kw gas burner. The staging is holding all the brew paraphernalia and sat on top are my milled grains, mash-tun and fermentation vessel.

The Garden was set up with catering, chill-out area, brew theatre, clothes-line, bar and educational tableau – we had it all!

The scene is set for garden brewing

All ready to go

Visitors having a bit of a demo


First guests arive and get the grand tour

Mashed in, the wort is having a 1 hour rest

Insulated mashtun = Coolerbox and Jackets!

Once we’ve mashed in the grains with the initial strike water it gets left alone for an hour for the enzymes to change the starches to sugars and to put the sugars into suspension.

The ‘mash-tun’ is an old picnic cooler box modified with a drain manifold and tap. It’s lagged with Helly Hansens finest duck down gilet and my walking jacket! 0.5 degree temperature loss over 60 minutes – heroic.

While we’re waiting it seemed like a good time to make an earnest start on the food and drink. Chef Foden senior was in charge of the BBQ.

Chef tends to the merguez

Mammoth quantities of fried onions for our sausage butties!
We had a great outdoors lunch – top stuff.

Wort trickles out from the mash tun

Clear wort comes off from the mash tun

Running off the wort for the caramelisation boil. The first 5 litres got a hard boil to bring on some of the sugar characteristics of the Scottish beer.

It was now Beer-O’clock and time to break out the home brew.

tasting time


To the left, an English ESB – plenty of licorice in this one. To the right – a favourite with the ladies – a lighter hoppy pale ale – my summer beer. Photographic progress became sporadic at this point. I can’t think why.

After a round of sparging, more boiling and beer chilling it was time to siphon off to the fermentation vessel.

Filling the shaking vessel - wort aeration

I fill 4 litres at a time and give it a good thrashing around in a carboy. It’s then filtered into the final fermentation vessel.

The recipe should have given us 19 litres of a 1055 degree beer. I suspect we under-extracted and over boiled the wort I took off so we have less beer – about 16 litres of a 1064 beer. A little stronger and more concentrated flavour I hope. More of a 90/- perhaps!

And then, all that was left was the washing up!

end of the line - spent hops for the compost heap

So, that was it. I really enjoyed it – hope others did too. It was a bit of fun, good to take part in a global event with other brewers around the world all having a crack at the same recipe. The recipe calls for a one month fermentation and then some further bottle conditioning. I suspect tastings will take place in September.

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