Muscovy Duck

Muscovy Duck
Roosting on the gate

2011 - My second year of blogging in Brittany

I felt I would like to share some of the photographs I have taken so far this year and some from other years. I live in a beautiful part of Brittany and just love being here. It's a lovely place to photograph and enjoy being in through all the seasons and hopefully this blog will show you where I live my life.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year's Eve

A grey and wet day for the this afternoon, last day and last blog of the year.  Two of my friends celebrate their birthdays today, Tristan is 29 and Christian is 64.  This afternoon, Paulette and Christian asked me to go for a walk with them from the mill at Coz Salou at the end of my village, on a very wet and muddy, heavily-leaved path through the countryside.  To think that a few months ago I wouldn't and couldn't have considered the walk even in the sunshine and with the aid of a cane, and now I walk without a stick and in the drizzle!  It was a good way to spend an hour and I do enjoy walking with them.

Christian took my camera to photograph a tree which has a very convoluted root system which has a stream running under it.

Buds on branches in the lane to the calvaire.

After the walk I went back to change my wet trousers, socks and shoes and then had a couple of cups of coffee with Paulette and Christian at their house.  It was a lovely way to end 2011.

It's been a difficult year in some ways, but ultimately rewarding.    Friends and family rallied round me when I needed them and I'm very grateful to them all.   I have ended the year in much better health and probably with more years ahead of me that I would have had without my gastric bypass.  

I have made just a few New Year's Resolutions:

To get organised so that I remember to succession sow salad veggies and have a continuous supply instead of a glut and a deficit. 
To get fitter as I get slimmer and walk whenever I can. 
To arrange my affairs - business and papers that is - I should be so lucky as to have the other sort! 
To sort out my books and get rid of at least 200 of them. 
To try to reduce my freezers to two and a half. 

If I achieve a couple of these I shall be happy.

New Year's Eve

Twenty-eleven is used up and spent

The months, weeks and days who knows where they went
The minutes whizzed past, the time disappeared
This getting older is just as I feared.
They told me this happened, that time would fly
Between giving up work and  the day that I die
Not enough seconds in each passing day
To write all the things I wanted to say.
I thought they were joking, that time would stand still
I'd be looking for things the hours to fill
But time zips on by with things left undone
The "to do" list gets longer while I'm having fun.
Fifty-two weeks more are coming next year
To live and plan for and enjoy being here
I expect they'll go quickly like all the rest
I'm hoping twenty-twelve may yet be the best.
Sandra E Chubb

Well - I wish everyone a very Happy New Year and many more of them!

Three things I like:

1.   That the days will be getting longer and lighter as we go into 2012.
2.   That I am here to see another New Year in, and most important
3.   That I have good friends and my family.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Oyster shells, Disasters and Little Eggs

More oyster shells have appeared, this time in the goat field. I spoke to my neighbour this afternoon, who lives on the North coast now, but who comes back to my village each weekend to sort out her son's house and garden.  It's always good to catch up with her and her news.  She cooked Christmas lunch for twelve people this year at her house.  Luckily, as the weather was good no-one had trouble getting to her.  She thinks it might be the next neighbours along who have been putting the oyster shells on the field, but I haven't seen them to ask them. The shells are brilliant as a source of calcium for the hens but need breaking up with a hammer into edible size bits, about half the size of a little finger nail or smaller.

While I was investigating the shells in the goat field and getting the birds to bed last night, I slipped in the mud again. I was absolutely covered in it and in spite of sitting on a "bag for life" in the Land Rover, had to wash the covers of the cushions which I use in the driver's seat.

The webbing has gone in the seat and without them I would be looking through the steering wheel.  My worker has promised to repair both front seats when I have finished losing weight!

Just before the boys left, Judge brought a whole load of logs in for me, wearing my XXXL man's fleece to protect his clothes.   He wasn't keen on me taking a photo of him in my outsize coat, hence the blurred photo!

The logs were all used up by this morning and I fetched just a few in from the trolley on the terrace as Flick was coming round to bring some in this afternoon. I was quite surprised when she arrived as I hadn't realised it was the afternoon already. Time seems to go so fast nowadays.  Her husband has man 'flu' which is why he hasn't been round to help here this week.  Hopefully, he'll be better for Monday morning.

Apparently there was a bad fire at Kerpin, near Lanrivain village at 01.00am on Boxing Day just after Christmas and very bad damage to the house.  The upstairs was completely destroyed and the occupant was very lucky to be woken and rescued by the firemen.  The photo is from

Yesterday in the centre of Corlay, eight minutes from St André, a lorry driver lost control of his heavy goods vehicle and ran into a car.  The driver of the car was injured and taken to hospital.  Also yesterday a seventy-six year old man was killed driving out of St Nicolas du Pélem in the direction of Corlay when his car was struck by a pick-up.  Not good things to happen ever, but especially at Christmas time.  I'm so glad Matthew and Judge got home to Cornwall safely - it always worries me them driving in the dark in a foreign country. 

Three eggs today again when I put the girls away tonight. I've also been getting really small eggs regularly over the last two weeks and think they must be from the Lavender Pekin mother hen.   I think Charlie will like the tiny ones fried or poached when he comes to visit in February.  Having so few laying hens at the moment I am really lucky that they are still laying so well.  The boys took back all the eggs I had, except for the small ones, when they left on Tuesday.

Only one more day of 2011 left now.  This year has gone so quickly and yet so many things seem to have happened in it. 

Three things I like:

1.   Finding another Christmas Card in my postbox this morning from someone I thought I'd lost touch with.
2.   Having a quiet day with no pressure to do anything at all.
3.   Getting all the Christmas guest bedlinen and towels washed and dried and put away.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Frost, Oysters and Mussels

It's more like December today and very frosty this morning.  I couldn't open the doors on the Land Rover, even after using the deicer, so couldn't go into town to collect bread for the animals.  All the animal water containers had to have the ice broken and leaves and twigs everywhere were edged with silvery-white.

After I'd looked after the animals, I came out of the barn door, locking it as usual.  I turned round to face the veggie bed opposite the door and there were oyster shells on the earth, as if someone had eaten their dinner up on my field. 

Strangely, about 3-4 years ago, when I opened the shed door one morning there was a packet of Quaker Porage Oats inside, as if someone had eaten their breakfast there.  Perhaps my field is a hot spot for a traveller who enjoys his food.

The grass around the calvaire, about 70 metres from my house, was really white, although now, at 11.30am the sun is out and it's a lovely day, so it's probably all melted away now as it's in such an open position.

The boys have yet to come in for breakfast.  I have done their job and emptied the dishwasher and put everything away, but they still have to do the hoovering.

I asked them yesterday evening if they would do it in the morning, the carpet is looking dreadful. The bin needs emptying again and the empty bottles are stacking up.  The Dysons all need their filters cleaning and Matthew usually does that when he's here, so hopefully he'll do that today too. 
I've found the bottle of Muscadet which I want to use when I cook the mussels for lunch.  I'm doing them marinière style, with chopped shallots, parsley, the Muscasdet white wine, seasoning and the mussels.  I haven't had mussels since July, and if I find I can't eat them, I will at least be able to eat the sauce. 

I haven't been to the shops, but have part-baked French bread to finish in the oven, which will mop up the sauce.  It's not traditional,  but I like to add a container of cream to the sauce after I've taken the mussels out with a slotted spoon.  Then when it's heated through I pour the sauce over the mussels - I am drooling just writing about it.  Here I am cooking them later for our very late lunch.  (You can see that the stash of empty bottles has been taken out.)

The sun is streaming through the window and I have had to move my chair slightly so it isn't in my eyes - lovely, lovely day.  Matthew had thought he was going home today, but when we looked at the ticket it is tomorrow and not until the 11.30pm boat, so that's good.

Lastly, two photographs of the sunset this evening.  The first of Saturday's new moon from the terrace and the second, the sky from my barn back door.

Three things I like:

1.   This lovely winter sunshine.
2.   Poaching freshly laid eggs for breakfast.
3.   Watching The Gruffalo.  

Monday, December 26, 2011

Boxing Day

Very late up this morning after a very late night/early morning to bed - the boys are a bad influence on me - my day is slipping like their day does   I quickly set off for the field and Basil, my daddy goat, was standing in the only part of his field where he can see the entrance to the field, waiting for me.  I took some photos of the young Lavender Pekins on their perch the other night as I was putting them all away, and this morning I took photos of various fungi. 

I found a branch which had fallen and carried that home. It had fungi growing on the end.

Two visitors were here for Christmas Day.  I had ordered them after a real one all but emptied my fish pond in the Autumn.  They will go outside and act as deterrents for any pass heron once I have restocked the pond. 

Just to show that healthy, non-calorie laden food was available over the festive period.  
Although, to be fair, I think the only fruit used so far was put into the Christmas Cake this afaternoon, which Judge made from a Mary Berry Christmas Cake pack.  It's just finished cooking and is doing its 30 minute rest in the tin before being turned out onto the cooling rack.  It smells lovely. 

I think Alfie was setting an example to the other two boys.

Obviously boys do not have the stamina of the female gender!

We had medium rare steaks, potatoes cooked three ways, butternut squash and a mixed salad for lunch.  I had some trifle which I made earlier, but Matthew had left the extra thick double cream in his fridge in Cornwall, so I had to have French cream which isn't nearly as lovely.   Mussels are on the menu for tomorrow lunch and I am defrosting a whole crab which, if all goes well, we'll have as a starter - I've never prepared a whole crab before so fingers crossed.

Three things I like:

1.   Having the boys here.
2.   Cooking for the boys.
3.   Finding that the hens are still laying eggs - unseasonally warm temperatures?

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas stuff

On Wednesday, after being assured by friends that it was not a dish you would only make once, I cooked Nigella’s Ham in Coca Cola. 

I did this with great trepidation, as a large gammon joint is not cheap, and I really love my boiled bacon.  I’m sorry to say that it is a dish I would only make once.  I don’t feel it enhanced the gammon in any way.  I didn’t finish it off with black treacle etc. as I am not looking for extra calories, but I did roast it in the oven for about 20 minutes to caramelize the fat, having removed the skin, as I often do.  Definitely not for me, sorry I don’t agree with you – you know who you are! 

Is anyone else having the problem with excessive quantities of mice being brought inside by their cats?  I must be getting at least two a day, sometimes more, and they are usually running around the sitting room/kitchen for a good hour or so before one of the three cats, usually Purrdy, manages to despatch them.  I come downstairs in the morning to find those little hard green bits from somewhere, not sure where, inside the mouse, lying on the floor, and all three cats lined up in front of the fridge freezer waiting for a little squeaky animal to emerge.   I have learnt to wear slippers and not go bare-footed until I am sure where the remains lie.  I am quite used to it, but I’m not sure that visitors will be as laid back about it.  Daisy even brought one in while I was prepping the veggies this morning. 

For those of you having turkey for Christmas, I thought you might like to see this photos from the blog  It was from an American who was having turkey for Thanksgiving. 

Well it's not a sunny bright day, but it is mild and so far it's dry here, which is always good for Christmas Day.  All my veggies are prepared and only the sausages to wrap with bacon and the gravy to make when the time comes.  I'm typing this with a glass of Buck's Fizz within hand's reach and I think it will be a good day!   My son, Matthew, and his houseshare friend are here and I've spoken to my daughter, Libby and my grandson on the 'phone. 

A Merry Christmas and a Happy 2012 to you all!

Three things I like:

1.   The anticipation of opening Christmas pressies.
2.   The anticipation of others opening pressies you have given them.
3.   Knowing everything's running smoothly for the big day.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Chair and stool, Presents and Roquefort

This morning, when I got into the Land Rover to go and collect a chair and stool I was buying from someone on my local expat forum, I found that the sunroof windows, both of them, have been leaking rain into the vehicle.  Not good.  They did leak in 2006, when I bought it from my roofer, but we siliconed them up and everything’s been fine until now.  After Christmas we’ll have to dig out the old stuff and renew it.  I had to put a tartan rug on the floor so I didn’t spoil the chair and stool, so now that needs washing.  Why does one job always lead to another? 

I am pleased with the purchase.  It looks almost identical, except for colour - yes it is green, not usually my preference but it seems to work -  to my previous chair, but is much more comfortable and slightly higher which is a good thing.

I spent the morning going round the shops and hadn’t realized the time until, while I was browsing shelves at the back of a shop in Rostrenen, the lights went off.  It was, of course, midday, when most shops close for two hours of lunch.  The shop assistants hadn’t realized there was anyone still in the store.  I shouted “Oh!” and one of them arrived and apologized, they then passed me through the checkout at double quick time, so they didn't miss any of their two hour lunch, and released me to the car park.

It was quite a successful morning and I have managed to acquire and wrap some more presents, thank goodness!

It’s drizzled with rain all day on and off and although I hate wet weather, it is so much better than icy, snowy weather for this Christmas travelling week. 

Flick and Andy's daughter came round to wish me a Happy Christmas before they go off into France proper for their Christmas.  I'd forgotten how children talk non-stop and she even managed to wake up Purrdy, who had been asleep, shattered with the whole festive preparations and social whirl she's been involved in.

While shopping I was looking for a cheese fix and found Roquefort which isn't made with cow's milk and so shouldn't have an effect on my lactose intolerance.  For some reason the

label won't load and save round the right way - you get days like that don't you?  Well I have eaten some of it on TUC biscuits, but it is very strong and, under previous conditions, I would have spread butter thickly under the cheese to mellow it a bit.  However, of course, that would defeat the object of using sheep's cheese.   I shall just have to have a very small amount now and then, and keep searching for something that I really enjoy meantime.

Three things I like:

1.   My newish chair and stool.
2.   The  different Christmas choirs on BBC Breakfast each day at the programme end.
3.   Having a long, long chat on the 'phone to an old friend this afternoon.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Chicken Pie, Kindle and Books

I love it that I'm cooking again after five months of not wanting to eat or cook after my gastric bypass.  Although I will not necessarily eat this, at least I am interested in food enough again to enjoy thinking about, preparing and cooking it.  This evening I made the pie filling for one of the boys' meals over their Christmas stay.  I think I will top one with mashed potato sprinkled with cheese and one with pastry. 

In the pan are pre-fried bacon bits and chicken which I have cut into bite sized pieces, lightly cooked leeks, carrots, one grated garlic clove, a few chopped sprigs of parsley, salt and freshly ground black pepper.  For the sauce, I cheat and use two sachets of chicken and leek soup powder which is mixed with a little of the water which the carrots and a little of the water which the leeks were cooked in.  Before I was lactose intolerant I would have added cream as well.  I divided the mixture into the two small casserole dishes and when cool put them in the fridge.  I will take them out and freeze them tomorrow morning.

I have also arranged enough food for the cats over the festive season.

They will also enjoy bits of duck, chicken, gammon, sausages, prawns and salmon I expect, as those are the things I have planned for their humans.

Daisy is already waiting for her treats  - it's a hard life being a cat in my house. 

The Christmas cards are coming in slowly this year - only sixteen so far.  I trimmed my list a year or so ago, as so many cards that I sent and received were from people with whom I had no other contact and it all seemed a bit pointless.  I feel I have got my list right this year and I have decided to give presents to family only.  It's difficult to get presents to friends back in England without spending a fortune on postage and I don't want to start doing presents over here.  I think I prefer to give to friends for birthdays and keep Christmas a family affair.

The children have bought me a Kindle and I have already been downloading free books which sounded worth having.  I am really looking forward to seeing it and have just ordered a blue leather case for it. 

Books are really what I like, but I have so many, far too many the children think and they are not so subtly trying to wean me off the printed page.   I shall never give up buying books, as I think there is something very special about having an actual book in my hands.  I enjoy searching through shelves of secondhand paperbacks in charity shops and would never stop buying in them.  Also some books, are designed to be looked at full size and in original form, such as recipe books, craft books where pictures are heavily relied upon.  I may though, sort through all the shelves here and try to eliminate some of the older, tattier and less beguiling books with a view to passing them on.

Three things I like:

1.   Guacamole with chilli bits.
2.   The rabbit gate has been repaired by my worker - great!
3.   I may soon have a working electric garage door - fingers crossed.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas lights, sunrise, spicy red cabbage and Christmas berries

I drove into St Nicolas du Pélem yesterday evening once I'd done the animals.  I wanted to look at the Christmas lights and take some photographs.  They were rubbish lights though, not nearly enough of them, so they looked mean, and while I was there it started to pour with rain again. 

No frost last night, just more rain.  This morning I was up again in time to catch the sky while it was still beautifully coloured.  Unfortunately,once the sun was up we didn't see it again as it rained for the majority of the day. 

My cleaner came to do the final clean before Christmas - rather early as my guests don't arrive until Saturday, but it's my day for cleaning so I have to live with that.

The rabbit run gate latch has broken.  It was stuck together with the frost yesterday morning  and is actually hanging out of its hole, which makes it very  difficult to  close or open the gate.  I hate it when these little things go wrong. The bulb in the light over the stairs has gone over the weekend too and then the bulb in the light to my left in the sitting room died as well - I have loads of lights in here, but even one does make a difference.

I've made the spicy red cabbage for Christmas day lunch - I cooked it on the hob.  It filled the house with the lovely Christmas spice smells of cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg.   I make it early because it's so much nicer when it's reheated for the meal itself.   The ingredients are red cabbage, apples (dessert or cooking), onions, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, cider vinegar, sugar, butter, salt and pepper.

Shred the cabbage finely, having removed the outside leaves and stalk first.
In a casserole or saucepan make a layer of shredded cabbage, sprinkled with salt and pepper, then a layer of sliced onions and apples with a shake of each of the spices and a little sugar. Continue with these layers until everything is used up. Pour over cider vinegar and add dots of butter on the top.  Put the lid on casserole or saucepan and either cook long and really slowly on hob or put in the oven for a couple of hours. Every now and then give it a good stir.  It freezes well and is even better when reheated.

It's cooked down quite a lot in the photo above - when I put the layers in it reached the top of the pan.  I divided the cooled spicy red cabbage into three and put the thirds in ziptop bags and then into the freezer.  The first time I ate this was at a friend's house for a 5 November bonfire party.  It tastes wonderful with really good pork sausages or a roast pork dinner - try it.

A pair of blackbirds have been landing on my holly bush frequently today and I have a feeling they will not leave many berries once they start eating.  At the moment there are lots this year - it's been a real picture.

Some of the trees around here are covered balls of mistletoe mainly, but not only, on apple trees.  Some of the trees are really tall and I'm not sure what they are, but mistletoe certainly thrives on them in huge clusters.  This photograph was taken last year when there were floods after the snow melted - it is not a lake, it is a field!

Three things I like:

1.   The smell of Christmas spices in the house.
2.   I've found the Christmas stockings which I hang over the fireplace.
3.   Reading a funny comment from my daughter's boyfriend on Facebook.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Storm repairs, roast chicken, cottages and logs

The wind dropped yesterday and there were even spells of sunshine between the very hard rain showers.  My worker came round first thing and put back the two blue logshed doors which had blown off and put some swivel pieces of wood at the top of each door to see it that did the job.  He also did a temporary fix on the double gates, though they will have to be taken off and the hinges sorted properly sometime soon as they have bent out of shape.

Daisy spent the day inside, I don't think she went out at all.  In this photo she was on my laptop table enjoying the fire, but it wasn't long before she was chilling out on the settee in another of her peculiar positions.

While she relaxed I made my usual soup.  I also roasted beetroot at the same time as the veggies for the soup were in the oven.  People keep saying that roasting beetroot gives them a better flavour, but to me there seemed to be little difference, if any, from when I simmer them on the hob.  There were lots of peelings and leaves for the compost bins up on the field.  I always roast the veggies in olive oil now and my local supermarket sells one I like.

The rabbits enjoyed the beetroot tops but the rest should rot down nicely and be ready for topping up the veggie beds in the Spring. The rabbit grassed area is absolutely drenched.  The ground must be so wet that there is nowhere for the new rain to soak into.  The rabbits seem to sit out whether the sun or the rain is on them, they don't seem to care one way or the other, unlike the cats who really don't like the rain at all.

Last night I decided, as frost was forecast, to turn on the storage heater in my bedroom.  It was well-timed as the temperature had certainly dropped during the night.  This thermometer was on the ice covered glass table on the terrace showing a low of -4°C - brrr!

The quagmire on the field was easier to walk across this morning as it was frozen, as were the animal water containers.  I took up the veggie peelings and leaves for the compost also the pan full of ash from the woodburner  which I spread on the top of the current compost bin.  The wood ash is supposed to be good for the compost too as it's a natural source of potassium and other trace elements, and it can be applied directly to the soil.

It's going to be a lovely day today.  I took this photo coming back down the lane from the field which shows the junction in the village.  At the calvaire, the stone cross, I turn right down the lane to my home.

When I got back home, the sitting room was lovely and warm, both from the woodburner and from the kitchen oven in which I had put a chicken and a couple of potatoes to cook when I first came downstairs.  I start it off upside down and then turn it about twenty minutes before the end of roasting to let the breast side take on a golden brown crispy skin the same as the underside.  I then strip the crispy skin off - any fat has cooked away - and eat it while it's still almost to hot to handle, also on my plate was one of the baked potatoes seasoned and with a large piece of butter melted onto the cut sides.  I then wrap the skinned, piping hot, roasted chicken in foil so it stays beautifully moist.  I shall fridge it when it's cool and the meat will be used for a chicken, leek and carrot pie.  The carcass would normally be made into stock for the vegetable soup I make each week, but this stock will be frozen and used for Christmas Day lunch gravy/sauce. 

This week my local supermarket, SuperU, had two bunches of radishes in a bag for €1 which was half price or better, so, as I eat half a bunch every day, I bought two lots and I am dipping them in salt and then eating them as I write.  I love a bargain, and you don't see many over here, compared with the UK, where they are always marking prices down to silly amounts at the end of the day.  I cut the stalks and leaves off each bunch and the rabbits really enjoy those.  Then I top and tail the radishes and store them in a bowl of iced water in the fridge, which ensures that they are really crisp to eat, drying them in a clean tea towel when I want to indulge.

It's really sunny outside this afternoon and I took a few photographs in the garden.  These show my cottages from two directions:

The first door at this end of the cottages is where you enter for the utility and gym. There's also a storage area upstairs. A vine grows along the south-facing wall in the summer months.  

In the second photograph the first door is a one-bedroomed cottage and the middle door leads into the house my daughter and grandson use when they are here, which has two bedrooms.

So I don't have to worrry about getting logs in from the huge logstack when the pile by my woodburner disappears, I have a covered log trolley on the terrace, so I can collect from there.

The logs are all bought in, but the kindling which I use to start the fire, is still wood we saved from when the houses all had new roofs, separating it out from the old slates.  Even after five years of fires, there is still loads of it left and it's lovely and dry, perfect for starting my fire each morning.

Three things I like:

1.   Crispy chicken skin.
2.   Getting 'phone calls from two of my children, one after the other.
3.   Downloading the first books onto my Christmas  present Kindle.  I haven't been given it yet, but have been able to download some books while it is still in England.