30 Jul 2008

House warming

…. or pendaison de crémaillère as it’s known here – the hanging (pendaison) of the implement (de crémaillère) in the fireplace. The crémaillère is actually the hook-like thing that was used to hang the cooking pot over the fire, not the pot itself as I first thought.

So, in the old days it was an essential item when you moved into a new house. And now that I know what it is, I've realised that I actually have one out in the courtyard, and I’ve been using it. Not to hang my cooking pot from, but a hanging basket!

So last week I had some people over – well it turned out to be quite a lot of people actually – and it turned into a really beaut evening.


Camilla and David’s daughter and son-in-law Amy and Gordon - who are here on holidays - sing and play the guitar professionally in the UK. They offered to provide live music on the night, so that was fantastic!

And when they’d finished, the French aren’t ones to pass up the opportunity of a microphone at the ready, so the songs started, and everyone found good voice. There was lots of food, lots of wine, and lots of fun.

Ellyette was twice a star on the night - firstly when she produced her her now-famous and much-in-demand blue Soupe de Champagne (helped here by Margaret, who did a great job tending the bar all evening!) -

and then later when she got hold of the microphone!

A great house warming indeed.

28 Jul 2008

Olive Festival 2008 and more .....

Another year – another Bize olive festival. Weather was great – lots of stalls of goodies, wine, cheese, food – all the usual suspects! And lots of food to be had at stalls down on the promenade.
I wandered around the village in the morning with June and we stumbled upon a hidden secret in the middle of the village. Well, not really a secret, but a hidden courtyard that’s only open very occasionally – the home of a local wine producer.
How gorgeous is this!
And in the huge barn off to the side is this old Model T Ford – the owner said he plans to restore it one day.
And then there is the aioli making competition at midday. Last year I arrived at the table too late to get close enough to be able to see it being made. Not so this year – I got a great possie at the head of the table! Sadly I couldn’t stay for the judging as I had to be elsewhere – but they were all looking and smelling pretty good to me when I left.

The contestants in action, with the help of the brass band playing in the background:

And onto another ‘foody’ topic – I went with some friends a couple of weeks ago to the village of La Caunette to an evening meal in the square.
Before the food, the customary aperatif ....
It’s held annually and the speciality of the evening is mussels. Now, these are things I don’t normally eat a lot of – one or two in a mixed seafood dish has been my limit. Up until that evening, that is. Well, the fellow who actually produces the moules was there, and between him and a few helpers, they fed nearly 200 people!
Elegant it isn’t – delicious they are ….
The fire of old vines is lit under a huge metal plate and the mussels moved around to cook with a garden rake …
…. dished up with up with a dustpan ….
…. and served in a plastic washing-up bowl!
And they were unbelievably good – apparently the recipe is meant to be a secret, but the word out there is that one of the key ingredients of the marinade is pastis.
They just kept coming by the bowl-full to the tables, until we just had to say ‘non, merci’ …..There were other courses (this IS France) but they were of minor importance compared to the mussels.

10 Jul 2008

I have a garden …

…. of sorts. Well, in the making really, but I’m so pleased that I have some outside space and can potter and grow things again. Eight years in Scotland without a garden … I really missed it.

But a way to go yet.
The outside re-do started off with having to get the painters in to fix the back of the house which was looking decidedly shabby and the side courtyard wall that had had been rough cement rendered at some stage.
It was definitely a professional job – it needed scaffolding and a high pressure spray – way beyond my capabilities…..
I’ve been busy assembling eight planter boxes (those damn flat packs again….).
A little time-consuming with my little cordless screwdriver and cordless drill. The painter took pity on me one day and went out to his van and loaned me his much more powerful electric screwdriver. That certainly hurried things along a bit!
And filling them with bits and pieces (the fun bit). I’ve actually done a real mix here – there are plants that will be there hopefully permanently and some that definitely won’t - i.e. morning glory creepers for a quick cover, runner beans, rocket and lettuces!
And I’ve made a start on the paving for a path down to the garage. They’re heavy – my first run I had 14 in the car and a couple of bags of soil – yesterday I managed 20 slabs.
I had a bit of a set-back yesterday with the planter boxes. They weigh a ton now that they’re full of wet soil and plants, and I realised that I need to move them forward about 30cm. Well, kindly Robin came over to help today and the first thing that happened was that the back trellis bit parted company with the bottom heavy bit, i.e. the screws pulled out …
So it was at risk of spilling dirt and plants everywhere if we continued. So on yesterday’s trip to pick up more paving stones, I also bought a lot of very long screws to try to reinforce things before trying to move them again.
I made a token effort yesterday afternoon, but it was hot as all hell in the courtyard, so that job’s been put on the back-burner until things [hopefully] cool down a bit…. The other alternative of course is to get out there at sparrows ….. Best laid plans and all that ….
Since moving into the barn, I seem to have a lot more flies indoors and I'm loath to do the Australian thing, and have a can of Mortein (or the French equivalent!) sitting on the kitchen table, at the ready.
Though I have to be honest and say I have been thinking of fly strips on the veranda [yuk] or even worse, a fly trap.
Margaret has bought a rather large flash model over the internet – a big plastic contraption that's hung in the garden but can smell a bit when it gets a few dead 'uns in it.
But I was thinking more of going for my Dad's home-made model, using the same principal. A large glass jar, with holes punched through the tin lid (so that jagged bits of the holes are on the inside), a bit of water and a bit of rotten squid (or the French equivalent!) in the bottom.
They can get in, but can't get out. Voila – cheap fly trap.
So in Albany, we grew up with these contraptions scattered around the garden – Dad was endlessly amused as these flies would get in and not be able to get out. They were revolting to behold, and even more revolting to smell if you got too close.
But – the good news is that I have a handy new gadget! Those who know me know that I love new technology and 'gadgets'. And this one is not only very useful, it's a whole lot of fun. I was at Robin and Ruth's – friends in the village - the other night, and saw theirs and just had to have one.
It's an electronic fly swatter! Runs on two small batteries and zaps them. If you're lucky enough to catch them, that is. I have to say I was a little enthusiastic on my first try and nearly put my arm out trying to swat one. I've learned that a slowly-slowly, more stealthy approach works better.
Interestingly, I did a search on the internet and discovered that they're banned in Australia – I read about several people's experiences of buying them overseas and having them confiscated by Australian Customs at the airport on their return. Apparently they're considered a 'dangerous electric-shock device'.hehe
Not so here, I'm delighted to say …..
Orange = old model, yellow = new.
Given all the stuff I’ve moved in the last year or so, my little car has come up trumps – I’m still amazed at the amount of stuff I can cram into it. This photo is not bad at all, in fact it’s a rather light load!
I recently came back from Narbonne, hoping not to see the gendarmes, with a 3-seater settee hanging out the back (tied down!) and was more than a little nervous. Even the kindly man at the second-hand store who helped me tie the back down, was saying ‘doucement, doucement’ … gently, gently…
But my little Suzuki has been fantastic – whoever would have thought that initially I wanted to buy an automatic diesel Renault, in any colour but grey!
A follow up:

Last month, when Wendy and Steve and Michael were visiting – Steve pointed out that he’d noticed that other villages they’d visited had condom machines outside their pharmacies…. and why didn’t Bize? Well, I didn’t know the answer to that one …..
However, as of a week or so ago, Bize does indeed now have its own brand-new blue condom machine, mounted on the wall outside the pharmacy ….

9 Jul 2008

Marie’s Wine Shop

Now that summer’s well and truly here, Marie Binisti is again doing weekly wine tastings in her lovely wine shop – Les Raisins du Soleil.
And even better, she’s expanding into serving meals – and I’m delighted to write all about the new venture here (and I’ll list all the opening times, details, etc at the end of this posting).
Another eatery in Bize-Minervois is good news indeed!
The wine cave is at the front of Marie and Olivier’s home, located opposite the church – you enter the shop via the grape vine covered courtyard.

There’s a really good range of Minervois wines to taste and choose from, and also a selection of local produce - Marie is very passionate and knowledgeable about the all the wines she stocks and sells.
Commencing mid-July 2008, light lunches and evening meals will be served in the courtyard. More complete evening meals can be arranged – talk to Marie.
Currently part of her house is being converted into a restaurant kitchen – and I must say that when I was given a guided tour recently, it was looking pretty impressive!
Dishes will be prepared as much as possible using locally sourced produce.
Not only is Marie’s food delicious – it also looks fantastic, as can be seen from the photos below.
You’ll have a selection of dishes to choose from and will obviously also be served with various wines of the region to suit the food.
If you’re visiting Bize in the summer months, I recommend you at least go to one of the wine tastings (free) on Monday evenings at 7.00 o’clock. No need to book for the tastings – just turn up.
Marie arranges for vignerons of the region to come and present their wines for tasting and talk a little about each variety. It’s a great atmosphere sitting out in the courtyard, and also a good chance to talk to Marie (who speaks English) about her evening meals!
Bonne chance with the new venture, Marie and Olivier!!
"This cave allows me to make known the wines of the region, wines that I find remarkable. Firstly, because we have managed to preserve a reflection of our land, Minervois. From Carcassonne to Minerve, Bize-Minervois and beyond, the Minervois is a mosaic of different terroirs - very dry limestone, shale, limestone-marl. Each wine is enhanced by the new practice of small yields, respect for the land and the rediscovery of old vines. I seek to taste wines rooted in the culture and history of our region."

Contact Details:
Marie Binisti
Les Raisins du Soleil
Phone : 06 25 42 67 95
Place de la mission, next to the church.
Wine Cave:
Summer: - 9 am to 13:30 and 19:30 to 17h.
(closed on Wednesday and Sunday afternoons)
Off-season: from 9:30 am to 13 pm and from 16:30 to 19:30.
Weekly closing: Wednesday, Thursday and Sunday afternoons.

In the summer months, light lunches and dinners will be served. For a more complete evening meal, please contact Marie who will be pleased to discuss your requirements.

Moving sideways

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