A changing visual diary of the seasonal fare and life here…
From The Forest
With record highs and new lows, February has kept us on our toes…
Always under our feet, Mina follows us into the forest, scaling
trees and crossing the river with ease.
Hellébores are in flower, lining the forest paths that follow
Frédéric has been busy cutting wood in the forest, preparing it
for next winter as it ‘seasons’ in stacked piles.
Cows keep appearing, slipping through the trees in the night,
breaking down the barriers that try to reinforce a perimeter
around the mas. They have decided the ash pile (from the wood
fire) is delicious as it is filled with minerals. As it also
happens to be below our bedroom window, bells clanging at 3pm
in the morning doesn’t endear us to our visitors, resulting in
continuous negotiations with the local farmer and then repairs
– one of the ‘ongoing’ challenges in our area, ‘highest on the
political agenda’ and the subject of many debates.
Traditions allow the herd to roam freely rather that be kept in
enclosed paddocks, so we are never sure when there will be a
new guest… I could hardly have imagined ‘crying out’ the
instructions in French that will send them back to the forest!
We opened our eyes to a world that wasn’t part of the weather forecast,
and as quickly as the magic was woven, it dissolved…
In The Garden
There are promising signs that spring is about to arrive as buds
appear on the fruit trees in the walled potager garden…
16th February. The first iris has been and gone and there are tiny
daffodils now pushing through in the sunny corner near the beehives.
We are a little behind due to altitude – on the lower plains Mimosa
trees are a blaze of brilliant yellow and blossoms smother the fruit
treesthat line the route to Perpignan. Days are getting longer, almost
suddenly it is noticable and a welcome relief as we emerge from the
darkness. Birds are singing as new leaves unfurl and the wind has
finally let out its last puff as calm returns…
The first blossoms in the potager garden are on the sheltered
lower terrace, this weeks surprise.
Violets are appearing amongst the stones of the steps and under
the trees on the upper garden terrace, while the pansies show their
little faces in pots and the sunniest corner of the vegetable garden.
Wednesday 27th February. Quite a different story…
The remains of what was a very old Magnolia Grandiflora, now a
A newly constructed two chamber box, where compost from our black
plastic bucket system is transferred to finish decomposing.
I had never equated ‘Mediterranean’ with snow and ice – since
experiencing many seasonal highs and lows I have a better idea
of the range of possibilities that are part of ‘life in the South’,
far from what a ‘summer tourist’ imagines. At first I was shocked,
making comparisons with a more temperate climate… part of the
learning curve as I monitor conditions in my attempt to work in
harmony with the seasons.
Exploring The Region
Discovering Calicéo has been a revelation – a luminous spa complex
on the outskirts of Perpignan, with inviting warm waters, sauna and
tiled hammam with benches of white marble. Lying back enjoying jets,
reflections dance on the celing and merge with clouds, while Canigou
is visible outside and fountains cascade from rock sculptures…
a wonderful temple to relaxation.
The most magnificent route is between the nearby village of
Maureillas and Céret. Canigou is revealed in all his snowy
splendour, rising to dominate the horizon as plane trees frame
the road that passes vines and orchards. Snow has reached record
levels in Cerdagne (the reaches of this departement), with many of
the Ski Stations unable to cope with such heavy falls, in comparison
to ‘not enough to form a base’ last winter. Last February we experienced
a prolonged cold snap here and our water lines froze – it is becoming
clear that it is impossible to predict the seasons, as each year we
are overturning previously held averages (written before this year’s
icy spell: four days without water compared to 17, a vast improvement).
After months lying dormant, the orchid in the kitchen window
now has four blooms open and two on the way – each is a beautiful
deep crimson with tiger-like markings.
And now there is a touch of spring colour to grace the dining table…
Rabbit has been the highlight on the menu; wrapped in proscuitto
and served with chestnut purée, and baked with green olives, preserved
tomatoes from the garden and champignons de Paris.
We tried the black olives from our tree, baked with chicken, saffron,
capers, balsamic vinegar, garlic, potatoes and échalottes… they have
been in salted water for two months and are still a little bitter, but
took in all the flavour of this casserole that has a caramalised sauce
(from brown sugar added). Not knowing the variety (whether they are
for oil only, or edible), the result was good, and we are testing another
method for the later harvest – protected by netting they stayed on the
tree until the beginning of February and are deep black, turning to
violet in a brine mixture, which is changed each day.
I was reminded that it is Mardi Gras and therefore carnival season
when I went to buy eggs from my new local supplier – they had run out
after a large order to meet the demand for crepes. There sales method
is exactly like in Australia or New Zealand, as an honesty box is left
on the table at the gate, with a selection of freshly laid eggs.
16th February. In honour of such a beautiful day, we ate outside, enjoying
strawberries from Spain, with fresh cream and chocolate gâteau, and the
first petanque match of the season…
Mina joined me on a tour to discover the reaches of the
frost, scaling trees, walls and the woodpile…
A view I will never tire of – from the side of the bergerie.
Canigou has another fresh coating, as snow continues to fall at
higher altitude in the Pyrénées Orientales.
Sunday 24th February. The water lines froze yesterday as temperatures
fell below zero, yet are still among the warmest recorded in France!
In a week we have had an exceptional high, an incredibly heavy frost,
snowfalls, and now gale force winds and ice. The pipeline winds its way
through the forest for over a kilometre, above ground, bringing water
from higher up the mountain into our home. The forecast is for the cold
snap to continue and life at altitude suddenly becomes more challenging
as we line up the plastic bottles filled from a spring at the foot of
the mountain road, essential, for even the simplest tasks like washing
hands become ‘rituals’ and we are mindful of consumption.
Designed to boil preserving jars, this giant pot has become handy,
replacing a hot shower as heat water on the woodfire and then stand
in the shower box to pour it, transporting us back to a time before
the modern luxuries we are so accustomed to…