Panier of Plenty

February 2014

Welcome to the visual diary for February…

From The Forest

The colours of winter

The colours of winter

Unearthed, behind the old 'porcherie'

Unearthed, behind the old ‘porcherie’

A rare sighting on the way up the road to the peak… a sanglier (wild pig), in broad daylight, on the mountain road. Hunting season is over and a cross-border operation was manned to control the numbers of sanglier in our sector… they seem to have been sent higher up the mountain…

Up the mountain road

Up the mountain road


In The Garden

Saturday 1st February. There is such calm today. It sits heavily, as if weighed down by the clouds that are letting filtered light through. There is a strange mix of cowbells and hammering, as sounds from higher up in the valley melange with those from the garden, as my atelier advances. Rain is predicted and two walls are still open – they need to be quickly clad and varnished. I am taking a pause to consider all that has occurred since the arrival of Mademoiselle Célestine – the theme has been ‘adaptation’. The garden continues to evolve and provide us with ‘plenty’ (a major part of our life) but my time is now broken down into ‘opportune moments’, as she tends to dictate the actions that are possible, and I follow her rhythm…

1st February, my atelier

1st February, my atelier

Three walls and varnish

Three walls and varnish

20th, Heavy brocade for the ceiling

20th, heavy brocade for the ceiling

20th February. The doors are fixed and now the roof insulation is in place, tissue is being stapled in place to cover the entire ceiling, as the interior starts to evolve. This week wall panels have been fixed and the next task is laying parquet…

Sheltering from rain, 21st

Sheltering from rain, 21st

The first iris flowers are appearing, at the same time as tiny violets…

Wild violet, now in the potager

Wild violet in the potager

12th February. There are now clear signs of spring’s arrival with tiny daffodils emerging, trees budding and flies and bees now active. Birds, which have been absent, are back singing from boughs and constructing their nests. The mimosa trees of this region are in flower (wattle!) and for sale in bunches in the market, as little crocus flowers open…

Miniature daffodils

Miniature daffodils

20th February, opening

20th February, opening

Crocus, on terrace

Crocus, on terrace

Another variety

Another variety

Dirt bath, vegetable garden

Dirt bath, vegetable garden

Monday 17th February. As mild temperatures continue (with the odd frost), new shoots are appearing in the garden and work has commenced – clearing weeds, trimming plants that have survived winter and repairing the stone edging. Many of last year”s new plantings are now established and flowers self-seeding beneath the layer of leaves that has protected the beds. The first pansy is showing its face and tarragon is the first herb to shoot up (providing a feast for the slugs, nestled in the mulch).

20th February, plum blossoms

Mirabelle plum blossoms

20th February. Suddenly there are blossoms on the lower garden terrace, and the quince is unfurling its leaves – it reached 18 degrees today.

Quince, 'la cognassier'

Quince, ‘la cognassier’

A few days later…

Plum trees, lower terrace

Plum trees, lower terrace

Exploring The Region

Almond blossoms

Almond blossoms

Mimosa in flower

Mimosa in flower

Crossing the border into Spain, almond trees are blossoming a delicate pink and the terraced groves of olives are a brighter green as new shoots appear. Flowers already smother the rocks on the coast and in Cadaqués, bars and shops remain closed as they get a new coat of paint, in readiness for the influx of sun seekers.

Rosemary cascading

Rosemary cascading

Cadaqués

Cadaqués

Sunday 23rd February. The orchards that surround Néfiach burst into flower, earlier than usual this year…

Orchards in flower

Orchards in flower

Rows of peaches and nectarines

Rows of peaches and nectarines

Almonds trees line the road

Almonds trees line the road

Spring arrives early

Spring arrives early

Mimoosa, plains of Roussillon

Mimoosa, plains of Roussillon

Every Saturday morning I head to the nearby town of Céret to buy vegetables at the market. In winter it is busy, in summer it is almost impossible to navigate through the crowds that fill the tiny pedestrian streets at it’s heart. Music from buskers creates a lively ambience, many cafés spill out onto large sunny terraces and everyone stops to chat – it is inevitable that I bump into neighbours, even if it is half an hour’s drive away.

Céret, Saturday morning market

Céret, Saturday morning market

Taking advantage of the sunshine and exploring the backstreets, the Pont du Diable offered a magnificent view of Canigou and mimosa blooming in one direction and in the other, the peaks that lie above ‘home’.

Pont du Diable, 14th Century

Pont du Diable, 14th Century

On The Menu

Radish, orange and fennel salad

Radish, orange and fennel salad

Beetroot, radishes, mache, fennel and orange salad, duck confit, moules marinières, lentils and white bean casseroles, raclette and tartiflette (a hearty mountain dish made with potatoes, reblochon cheese, white wine, bacon/lardons and onions). Oranges and clementines are still in season and it is wonderful to enjoy freshly squeezed juice each morning.

Courgette, carrot and squash

Courgette, carrot and squash

For Célestine ‘solids’, which means preparing garden vegetables (the last of the carrots, and pumpkins from the cellar).

Goat's cheese, bacon and emmental

Goat’s cheese, bacon and emmental

Orange blossom and Nutella

Orange blossom and Nutella

Crepes – traditionally for February 2nd. I have been trying to perfect my batter and technique, the verdict is “You can make them as often as you like” – a great improvement on my attempts when I first arrived in France…

At Home

Orchids flowering, kitchen window

Orchids flowering, kitchen window

The collection of orchids on the windowsill is growing as plants in need of care are donated and come back to health – this plant was barely hanging on and has made a remarkable recovery.

A surprise for C'élestine

A surprise from the florist

Bonne fête de St-Valentin

Bonne fête de St-Valentin

The belvédère

The belvédère

Greeting Canigou

Greeting Canigou

A fresh layer of snow

A fresh layer of snow

Mas Reste, closed for winter

Mas Reste, closed for winter

Arrow slits

Arrow slits

Stone table in the  shade

Stone table in the shade

Summer's dinner bell

Summer’s dinner bell

Well-weathered shutters, mas

Well-weathered shutters, mas

February 10th. I cannot help but smile as I think how much my life has changed – if the most exceptional event of the week was sighting a sanglier. I have the luxury of ‘time to contemplate’ as today there is a profound silence. Sometime in the wee hours of this morning we were woken by the electricity tapping out a tune and then plunged into darkness – the difference always astounds me as there are usually tiny lights flashing on the appliances we deem so necessary (the satellite box, for one). The calm penetrates – there is a ‘change in vibration’, of the atmosphere – without the constant hum of the fridge, or white noise that is only evident when it ceases. Priorities change; things ‘taken for granted’ are suddenly rearranged, and rather than think of what is ‘not working’ we are reminded of what we have. The fire is providing warmth – the wood, from the surrounding forest – the gas is easily lit with a match and sunlight floods in the window. How often do we acknowledge the ‘light’ that separates day from night? There is nothing more precious than the sun that illumines our lives, and nothing is ‘pressing’ when we are caught in the present moment, outside the bounds of ‘time’ (all our clocks are digital displays on appliances)…

And to finish the month, the view from the bathroom window…

Snow falls overnight

Snow falls overnight

View, up the road

View, up the road

…As spring comes early.

An early spring

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