Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday's Petite Aquarelle

Five Ducks
12" x 16"
$120 including shipping
available at

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Big Bear

Somehow Big Bear found out about the Berry Festival.

Monday, May 27, 2013


Local strawberries, freshly sliced, lightly sprinkled with maple sugar (the one item I tuck into my suitcase whenever I am in Vermont) and, if guest are around the table, a bowl of freshly whipped cream to scoop on to ones taste. That is my idea of heaven.

This year I’ve noticed recipes that use strawberries in a savory way and I would like to share a few of these recipes. Here are interesting flavor combinations that give ones taste buds a delicious surprise.

Pork Tenderloin with Balsamic Strawberries
6-8 servings
Southern Living Magazine

1 (3lb.) package of pork tenderloins
fresh pepper and kosher salt
10 bacon slices
olive oil
garlic to taste 
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1/3 cup strawberry preserves
1/2 cup quartered fresh strawberries

Preheat oven to 400F

Wrap 5 slices of bacon around each tenderloin
Salt and pepper the meat
Place meat in a pyrex cooking dish
Cook 25 to 30 minutes

Meanwhile mince garlic and sauté in olive oil in medium skillet over medium-high heat. Add vinegar: bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, and stir in preserves. Reserve half of mixture for basting. Stir fresh strawberries into remaining mixture.

Remove pork from oven to baste with basting strawberry mixture. Cook 5 minutes more.

Slice tenderloin and serve with fresh strawberry mixture.

**make a packet of green beans to place in the oven at the same time as tenderloin. Green beans, chopped garlic, and olive oil - tossed to coat and sealed in aluminum foil.

Strawberry, Radish and Feta Salad
(sorry no measurements as all in grams and French measurements, like petite botte, so just go mix and match to your own taste)
Femina Magazine

Bunch of radishes
fresh basil - choose small leaves
chives - cut finely
parsley - remove small sprigs from larger sprigs
lemon juice, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper

Slice strawberries
grate radish
crumble feta
Put all in a salad bowl 
Mix and pour the vinaigrette onto the salad
Add herbs to salad

Carpaccio of Strawberries and Fennel
(again trust your taste buds)
Femina Magazine
2 fennel bulbs
juice of one orange
olive oil
2 sprigs of dill greens
salt and pepper

reserve some strawberries for the vinaigrette

Slice the fennel bulb very finely and place on a large plate
Slice strawberries from top to bottom and place on the fennel

Prepare the vinaigrette. 
Pass the orange juice through a sieve to remove any pulp. 
Mash strawberries and also pass through a sieve.
Place orange juice and strawberries in a bowl, add olive oil and the chopped dill. Salt and pepper and mix.

Sprinkle the carpaccio with vinaigrette and place in the refrigerator of at least one hour.

Serve this with several fine slice of prosciutto or other finely slice country ham.

Here is my source for Maple Sugar

Bon Appetit!

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Spring Patio

Spring Patio
12" x 16"
$120 including shipping
available at

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Two Sides of the Atlantic

Trees Around the World (or at least on two sides of the Atlantic)
The visiting American is completely flummoxed by the way the French drastically prune trees.

Likewise, with the vacationing Pierre and his discovery of the American cell phone "tree".

Monday, May 20, 2013

There is one shade tree in our yard....

There is one shade tree in our yard. 

It is a tree that has seen many seasons. More than 150 years’ worth. Our guess is that a little linden sapling was thoughtfully planted on the western side of the house as construction was finished in 1850.

The little linden lived a happy, carefree life, free of any responsibility to it’s owners until the time it was due to be taille-ed. I try not to confuse my blog with too many French words, but this is an important one.  Tailler (pronounced “tie-ay”) is the verb to describe pruning. But the type of pruning the French do to trees is like nothing that exists in the States. The trees are pruned to keep them at a certain height--forever. The farther a tree is from the side of the road and the closer it gets to the house, the shorter the taille-ed tree.  So far I have only been able to find out that trees are treated this way because (a) “Isn’t that what one does everywhere to make a tree ‘fit’ into the yard?” (b) the rapid annual growth of the branches used to provide peasants with easy to carry and no need to split firewood.

I have no idea how one decides that a tree is tall enough to start cutting it back. I have no idea how much our tree continued to grow after this radical practice was started.

What I do know is that we have a magnificent dancing tree that provides a not so serious sentinel guard to our home.
We have a deep luxurious pool of shade on the hottest days of summer under the canopy of densely layered leaves.

We have an inviting spot to sit alone, with each other, or to shout out to the passing neighbor to stop on in.
We have a soft breeze at the end of the evening as the last rays of sun kiss us under the embracing arms.

We have a responsibility to continue this tortuous task. 

The old arms that reach out so far would probably not bear up for long under the weight of new branches. New branching is cut back to the gnarly stubs ever two years. It takes my breath away to see Tom up on a ladder and tip-toeing along the mossy branches with those vicious loppers.There will not be a twig left when he has finished. There will be marvelous bundles of the delicate branches that will dry and be used for kindling. The tree will stand there reproachfully all winter. It’s indignant posture seems to say “How could you do this to me?” How can it go on after such cruel surgery.? But it will. After holding my breath for far too long into spring there will be signs of branch sprouts, twiggy, pathetic at first, then longer and longer, green buds appearing from some un-seen hidden strength. With each lengthening day there is less light sneaking through the thickening leaves. By the end of spring here again stands a brave, strong, proud old soul. Another round of seasons has arrived for it to show off it’s strength and it’s kindness.

Bourdeilles willow tree that shows the severity of the pruning. I could never bear to photograph our old tree at this stage.

Thursday, May 16, 2013


Pierre has never before used fertilizer. But the ad for this one said you could expect AMAZING results. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

A French Gardener's Frenzy

The past three weekends we have been off to the springtime whirlwind of flower festivals. (If it didn’t seem too childish, I would have ended this opening sentence with dozens of exclamation points.)  These Floralies are the best part of our best season.  They happen all over France in such abundance that we fill up our weekends without driving more than 30 minutes from home.

Each Floralie has a different flavor. The menu runs from chic and elegant to casual and adorable.  Mix in a few outings for hardcore plants people parlaying latin, add one or two chateaus served up in some beautiful villages and you get the whole moveable feast. The after dinner production, so to speak, is  the prima donna of all plant fairs, one that takes over the whole village of St. Jean de Cole.

The first of our region’s fairs is held at the chateau of Neuvic, a fairytale setting with ancient roses clambering up the walls. Today the rose vendors will have no trouble inspiring you to attempt the same display at your humble abode. With this Renaissance backdrop the fair seems to fall back in time. There is a hustle and bustle of vendors and ravenous early customers swoop in to scoop up the best of the day’s offerings. As the day wears on the atmosphere becomes more relaxed as the crowd transitions to include families on an outing after a big noonday meal.

The following weekend the plant sale of La Brande is in the middle of nowhere. Clearly a destination event for those in the know. This is a plant fair for new, rare, and unknown plants. Nurseries come from all of France to show off their speciality:  shade plants, peonies, old roses, old fashioned tomatoes, ferns, and all sorts of other mysterious plants. The place is rustic and cramped.  The paths are too narrow to pass.  The collective adrenaline fills the air with electricity like just before a thunderstorm.  It’s hard to differentiate between rage and ecstasy.  It is a serious plants person’s paradise.  

Rain or shine we always make the effort to visit the third festival. Perched high on a hill the Montagrier Floriale is the most charming and intimate. The little Romanesque church and it’s surrounding grounds make a welcoming spot for local vendors to set out their happy summer flowers. The villagers have created a beautiful variety of bouquets from their home gardens to set about the interior of the church. All so simple, elegant and no high-handed frilly-dilly stuffiness. The lunch time barbecue will be sold out by 1:00 and families and friends will linger into the afternoon to welcome the fact that today’s purchase of tomato plants signals the gentle beginnings of summer.

Trumpets! Fanfare! Better, or at least clean, clothes! We’re off to the extraordinary festival at St Jean de Cole. This past weekend was their 32nd year. Here the main street of this medieval village is lined with bright masses of gaudy color. It’s a bit like walking the yellow brick road in multi-color. The over the top atmosphere is contagious and everyone is gay and in a buying mood. 

No one will leave here without one great big  splash of color to brighten up a garden corner. 
And if you want to know this years “it” rose this is the place to be. Seems that peppermint stick or grape soda are the colors for 2013. And oh, the floral displays! There is no expense spared to show off the talents of local florist shops and fill the interior spaces with as much, or more color, than can be found out of doors.

Tom has the tractor running. Holes are appearing, compost is everywhere. Time to get those wonderful new purchases into the ground.   As it says on the side of our soap dish, :

“To dig and delve in nice clean dirt
Can do a mortal little hurt.”

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Hey You, Slow Down

Today's cartoon was inspired by our trip on the Canal du Midi. The length of this extraordinary waterway spans the entire country of France. For all these hundreds of miles, the speed limit is 6 mph.
HEY! Slow Downnnnn! What'r you trying to get us all killed?!?

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Canal du Midi

A voyage along the Canal du Midi is a surreal experience. The waterways of the canal make for a languid dreamlike journey. The sense of floating on a cushion of air for mile after mile lulls one into a dream-like state. The “speed limit” is 8 km per hour so the country sides passes by slowly. Because of the engineering feat of keeping the canal level the countryside rises on one side of our view and is below us on the other side. Nowhere but in a canal can you be on a boat and look down on rooftops.  Only on a canal can you completely confuse reality by being in a boat on a canal which is also a bridge that spans over a river.  It is a magic carpet view of the world. Castle and church spires appear in the distance, then rooftops of village homes at the feet of these grand buildings. The sound of the muffled boat’s motor is soft and steady; the landscape’s powerful silence is stronger than this rumbling mantra. 

So silently we glide through and past these quiet canal-side communities. Several times we come to cities. Ancient cites started by the Romans to protect their roads leading to the north.  The canal has been important to the growth of these places, a new road to usurp ancient ones. The waterway usually slides right through the center of town. A haven of treelined peace for the city center. 
Our intimate boat world seems strange passing through railroad yards, past apartment buildings, and then surrounded by modern downtown businesses. 

Outside of the few human habitations and the explosive excitement of the locks, there are few intrusions into the tranquility of the voyage. 

The canal du Midi was conceived and started during the reign of Louis the IV. This was the late 1600’s and work was done by hand, demanding 12,000 laborers at it’s peak. It is a waterway to connect the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. The canal was to be a safe and quick route to transport goods within the confines of France, thus avoiding a long ocean voyage and attacking Spaniards. Wine has always been the most important cargo of the barges. 
One passes acre after acre of vineyards and it is a lot of fun to tie up the boat and make a visit to one of the wine producers. Seeing the enormous containers of wine waiting to be bottled you can see how this one commodity kept the canal going for years and years. And, of course, one cannot fully understand and appreciate this region unless one accepts the responsibility of stopping the boat to sample the nectar of the locals. 
But the most hypnotic, dramatic and memorable part of the journey are the trees. In the 1830’s 42,000 trees were planted along the canal to shade the boats and the tow paths. Now over 200 years old, their stately statuesque presence defines that route. Like ancient giants, these sycamores stand sentinel along both sides of the canal. Straight-a-ways, S curves, narrow and wide loops are all signaled by the glow of the smooth, light-colored bark and the soft green of the never-ending cloud banks of foliage.  Trees, only trees, can give this sense of shelter, powerfulness and beauty. Mile after mile of them seeps into one’s soul to create a sense of peace as profound as only nature can give.

A great big thanks to the friends that added so much to the joy of this adventure!