Saturday, February 28, 2009

Getting our hands on a composter: Part 6.

Oh joy. Just as we were finishing breakfast, the yellow Poste van pulled up outside. The envelope in the box bore the return address of the Communauté de Communes in Mirepoix. Inside was the white form we need to complete (and take back) that will get us a composter. Meanwhile, I continue to donate our vegetable trimmings to a neighbour. 

Friday, February 27, 2009

Notes on a Friday morning.

The weather has been gloriously warm all week so I've spent long hours out in the garden. Mostly it's a work of demolition. Shrubs obstructing the space underneath the pergola have to be ripped up (except for one that could be a wisteria so we'll wait a few weeks before we pronounce a death sentence on that one). The "lawn" needs to be de-buttercupped. And then there are the nettles. Over the years, these have been chopped down but never removed. Consequently innocent little nettle sproutlings grow from roots like varicosed veins. Pulling them out is very satisfying if you get a good grip. First one little sprout, then another a few centimetres away, then another...and another come up, each with its little puff of dust. Overall, it looks like machine gun fire.
    On a culinary note (and yes, I intend to make nettle soup, nettle quiche, nettle bourgignon...joking) I came upon a perfect rosette of dandelions on Thursday just as I was packing up for the day. Dug it up, had it rinsing in the sink in minutes, and on our plates simply dressed with Perry's olive oil and salt a few hours later. A little bitter, it went well with the grilled saucisses and polenta, and ratatouille that made up the rest of the meal.
   Friday is market day so I abandoned the garden and off we went to Lavelanet, long list in hand. There's a whiff of incipient spring cleaning in the air. Sold all year round, cleaning overalls--mostly in shades of blue--are out in force.
    And SuperU (one of Lavelanet's supermarkets) has orange concrete mixers on special.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Carnival Time in Limoux

Held every weekend from mid-January to the end of March, the Carnaval de Limoux is said to be the longest-running carnival in the world. Possibly originating in a pagan winter festival, its language is Occitan and its traditions are embedded in the heritage of this Languedoc town.

We drove there Sunday morning, arriving shortly before the first of the three sessions held each day. Brass instruments signalled the arrival of the first group, its costumes owing plenty to Disney (the event may be centuries old but it's always evolving). Mickey Mouse, the seven vertically challenged people.  Cruella De-Ville, they were all there. But innocent though Disney characters may look on film, they become definitely sinister as masked characters, the still faces concealing all, including whether it's a man or a woman--and women have only been allowed to take part since the early 1970s. Even small children have a creepy look to them 
Flinging confetti until the place is ankle-deep, performing the traditional swaying Fècos dance, and interacting with the crowd, each group goes around the main square under the arcades visiting most of the cafés for a restorative drink. We were well into our pizzas and vin rouge by the time the pink-and-black bande shown at the top of this post came around. Events become more traditional on the final night when the Carnival King is burned at the stake.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Getting Our Hands on a Composter: Parts 1 through 5.

As I start to get to grips with the garden, it's obvious that there's going to be a vast amount of "green garbage" to deal with. And, like all households, we produce a large amount of potential compost in the form of onion skins, orange peels and so on. At times I've contributed to others' compost piles but lately (blush, blush) I've been throwing most of it in the bin. 
Part 1: In which we read about the availability of composters.
Judge our delight when the periodic village newsletter came around with the news that all anyone wanting a composter had to do was to go to the mairie and ask for the correct form.

Part 2: In which I go to the mairie.
I spoke to Chantal (the mayor's right hand), made my request and left with a bright green form to fill out. 

Part 3: In which we make Important Decisions and complete the paperwork.
Opting for the larger composter--a steal at 10 euros--we filled out the form which had to be taken to the office of the Communauté de Communes (a local organization) in Mirepoix. Meanwhile, our new neighbours, Bea and David, had also filled out a form which I volunteered to take along with ours. P.S. Theirs was a white form. This should have told me that something was amiss.

Part 4: In which I go to the Communauté de Communes.
The man who deals with these things was en vacances. The man standing in for him dealt with great speed with Bea and David's form, giving me a handsome dark green lidded bucket for kitchen use, a very large carrybag, and an instruction book. 

All for them. 

All I got was a promise that the white form would soon be in the post to us. And the information that, once we get the form, we have to come back to the C de C where we will be given a piece of paper that we can take to Gamm Vert to receive our composter. We will also be given an invoice for the requisite euros which we must pay to the Tresor Public. 

Part 5: The return visit to the Communauté de Communes one week later. 
The white form didn't arrive so, in Mirepoix for the market, I trotted off to the C de C for the second time to meet the man who deals with these things. He told me that he was saving up the green forms (and showed me a bundle as proof) before taking the next step because it saved money on composters. I haven't quite figured this out. Something may have got lost in translation. He assured me that our white form will soon be in the post. 

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Breaking buying resolutions at the Pamiers flea market.

Because the shelf over the sink is jammed with them from one end to the other. Because the kitchen cupboards and the sideboard are crammed with tottering piles of mismatched crockery. Because I really should know when to stop. I've placed an embargo on buying any more quaint old tins or one-of-a-kind plates or saucers. However attractive they are.
    But...we are on the lookout for plenty of other stuff. A carved something-or-other for the post at the bottom of the staircase (an oversized hazelnut or walnut would be ideal). Vintage bedside tables. Something to stand in the bathroom to hold bottles and jars. And, as they say in the advertising business, "much, much more."
   All of which was a reasonable excuse to head off to Pamiers on a glorious Sunday morning when the frost lay on the fields and the Pyrenees looked sculpted out of solid ice. 
    Once, some months ago, we found that the usual flea market had been pre-empted by a troupe of majorettes. But not today. By ten o'clock, when we arrived, the main square was already packed with buyers, sellers, dogs and an inquisitive ferret on a leash. Good karma flowed. You just knew this was going to be a successful rooting through the cast-offs of others. 
    Our first find was an old wooden shuttle (that's the thing that looks like a miniature canoe), a remnant of the textile industry that used to flourish in this region. The woman who sold it to us said some people use them to hold pens and pencils. In a moment of lunacy, I'd envisaged it holding a row of tea-lights until Peter pointed out that, being made of wood, the shuttle might go up in flames. 
    In a box under the same stall, I came on a rolling pin. Not sure if you can make out the words inscribed on it but they translate as "reserved for domestic quarrels." What I initially thought were red wine stains may be blood. I couldn't resist two small plates with a stencilled pattern of oranges. Only a euro each. 
    Major finds often hide in the cartons under each stall. Seeing me dithering over a pile of saucers, their owner smartly picked out the ones I'd been looking at--one with blue flowers, six with red daisies--and offered them to me for a euro the lot. This was after she'd sold me a tin of buttons for the same price. 
    In yet another box, this time filled with books, I came on Middleton's All the Year Round Gardening Guide (another one euro purchase). Reading through it later, I've discovered it was written during the war as an aid to digging for victory.
    Meanwhile Peter picked up a rather splendid vase, a souvenir of Mirepoix, a steal at 1.20 euros. And that was it. Apart from two pairs of gloves and a kilo of walnuts.

Friday, February 13, 2009

14 kilometres mostly in sunshine.

I spoke too soon about spring being here (see previous post). Low temperatures, rain and the kind of snow you see on Christmas cards hit us over the next few days. But, by this morning, the skies had cleared by 8:45 a.m. when we all met up at the café, decided what kind of sandwich we wanted for lunch and left the list in the mailbox. 

Our route today began in the village of Limbrassac about ten minutes away, took us over the hills, through forests and past farms. The woods are dripping with pale yellow catkins. Streams are rushing along. Ginger biscuits are very, very good when you've been walking for a couple of hours... but not as good as the nap I had after the sandwich-and-beer lunch.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Spring Comes Shouting In.

Everywhere you looked at the market this morning, people were brandishing big bunches of stinging yellow mimosa. The source of it all was a thin bearded man who had set up a makeshift stall at the edge of the halles. Imagine an enormous vivid yellow mound of mimosa branches and a sweet, clean scent that is the essence of spring. It was impossible to resist so I didn't.  The mimosa comes from the town of Ceret, near Perpignan. Right now, in Léran, at 7:25 p.m., it's 11 degrees. Maybe winter is over.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Brown-ish Lunchtime in Pamiers

Not for the first time we left Léran later than we'd planned and found ourselves in Pamiers just as everything was closing. 

On the same side street as Le Patio, the little bistro we ate lunch at, we were enchanted by a window display showing a petit déjeuner, mostly in shades of brown, right down to the pot of Bonne Maman chestnut jam. 

A food store? Guess again. In fact, the shop sold fabrics for patchwork. 

So lunch. Steak frites and the choice of cheese or dessert. I cannot resist iles flottantes, a standard "pudding" in these parts. Every one I've had has been different. This meringue was almost marshmallow-y--a meringue with some serious substance to it. Milk, eggs, vanilla and sugar are the only ingredients. A good dessert to keep in mind if I have to drum something up in a hurry and don't have time to go to the supermarché. 

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Wednesday Morning Apples

Sadly, the village shop closed over Christmas which is tough if you don't drive. Still, travelling vans do bring food to the village on a regular basis. You can buy quail, duck confit, sausages, pork chops, beef to make daubes, or to put on the grill.  And, on Wednesday mornings, you can stock up on mostly locally-grown fruit and vegetables. 

The woman who runs this little stall sets up shop in front of the war memorial just across from the post office. Today, she was selling different varieties of apples, pears and potatoes as well as pots of homemade apple jam. I bought a jar and am now trying to resist making toast with the sturdy loaf I just picked up at the boulangerie, slathering it with doux butter and trying out the chunky confiture.