Panier of Plenty

February 2015

Welcome to the visual diary for February…

View across the 'Tins'

View across the ‘Tins’

As February advances the bitter wind is forcing its way in though every crack and ancient window, making it clear that while this old maison may have charm it is not well insulated… I have a blankets stuffed into the side of the terrace door and rolled up towels blocking cracks. It is exceptional – the gale force winds are relentless and snow was beating at the door in the night; sirens have been sounding (I can see the sapeur pompiers station in the mid-distance below) and even terracotta plant pots lie smashed. On the roof below there is loose guttering and ice has rested all day… I am still unaccustomed to these extremes!

I have recently finished a book (merci Helen) ‘Daughter of Catalunya’ where the central character recalls a scene from her childhood and her brother doubts its accuracy – a wood stove in the South of France! Why yes! In fact, houses are built for summer, mainly floored with tiles, even equipped with openings for air… forgetting that November through to February can be harsh. Waves batter the coast; airborne snow rising from Canigou’s peaks reminds me I am tucked inside in relative warmth, nonetheless, and a large iron casserole sits on the stove, filled with spicy vin chaud… my solution to finding joy in this time. Accompanied by speculos biscuits (spiced), it brings welcome cheer.

On the menu: buttered spinach and butternut risotto cakes, with date and orange salad for desert. I have been toasting oats with almonds (from the Mas Reste tree), hazelnuts (noisettes), coconut and honey – mixing in muscat raisins and chopped dates. Even though breakfast is usually baguette with homemade jam (or croissants, or pain au chocolat as a weekend treat), I have been visiting the bio or organic shops nearby and nostalgically seeking fare from my past existence…

Lillies from the market

Back from the market

Sunday February 15th. Gentle rain is falling and I am looking out to mist, settled in a layer in the valley and clinging to the distant hills. It is calm and mild after our recent ‘cold snap’. The fire is glowing; I had a wood delivery yesterday and now feel I can be generous with the quantities I burn as winter nears its end. I was lucky to get the last pain au chocolat from by nearest boulangerie – this period is marked by the closure of the three most popular boulangeries as they take their ‘conges annuels’ or annual leave…. but they forgot to talk to each other, or the remaining bakeries, and it is funny to see how the delicate balance of daily life is disturbed as long queues snake from the counters of the few who remain open. Many businesses have chosen to close (one of the quietest times of the year commercially, when looking at the event calendar) even though there is always a festival or event that attracts an influx of clients – like Saint-Valentin – and we are now entering carnival season. Next weekend the streets will be alive with floats…

Thursday February 19th, just glorious and lunch on the terrace again…

Mimosa and Platane

Mimosa and Platane

Church tower

Church tower

Platanes tower above the church

Platanes tower above the church

We are accustomed to church spires dominating; it is incredible to see how the trees ‘lead to the heavens…

Blue skies return

Blue skies return

February is the month where trees are trimmed: the towering plane trees that line the roots and the many avenues of trees leading to public parks. They have many odd forms after they are severely clipped, resembling dormant sculptures that will shift their form when they hear nature’s call. Many of the giants are ‘listed’ and protected, part of the patrimoine of the ville. The other typical trend at this time is renovation… there is much transformation taking place. The grandest project has been the Café Le France; opening its new forged iron doors for the first time today…

Trees are being trimmed

Trees are being trimmed

Waiting for spring

Waiting for spring

Walking around Céret

Walking around Céret

There are many surprises to be found ‘on foot’… leaving the ‘medieval’ centre where many homes are three stories high (we are in a four story stone house), the streets are wider and houses more modern, and ‘Spanish’ in character…

Many styles of architecture

Many styles of architecture

Clearly the South

Clearly the South

Marking an enormous roundabout that leads to the bull-fighting arena…

Torreador

Torreador

Saturday 21st February. Cous cous salad with dates, almonds, oranges, red and yellow capsicum and goji berries…

Char-grilling les  poivrons

Char-grilling les poivrons

Peeled and sliced

Peeled and sliced

Marinating berries and dates

Marinating berries and dates

I left the goji berries and dates soaking up orange juice and cumin while preparing the rest, and then added orange slices and a sherry vinegar vinaigrette…

Orange now infusing

Orange now infusing

The couscous is then cooled and everything well tossed…

Ready to share

Ready to share

This is an ‘invention’ (rather than a recipe) in response to an invitation to a ‘bring a plate evening’ – I think there will be around six people? The seasoning has worked, it is delicate with a good balance of acidity and sweetness. Oranges are in season; dates, almonds and capsicum (poivrons) are always available from Morocco, and couscous is often served cold as part of a buffet for festive gatherings.

It turned into sixteen people around a very large table ‘à la bonne franquette’ (which is a bit like a pot luck dinner): little sandwiches with paté, sardines or tapenade; sweet potato soup with coconut cream; leek tart and quiche; couscous; truffle omelette; large chunks of sheep and goat’s cheese (tommes); apple tart and a walnut gateau.

Finely grated truffle

Finely grated truffle

One of three omelettes

One of three omelettes

I drove home as snow started to fall and the wind raised its head and started howling…

At Bar Pablo

At Bar Pablo

Sunday 22nd February. Carnival – a family day out as the festive spirit enlivens the young and young at heart, even if the temperatures were far from tropical (many locals were brave, the eskimos were the only ones comfortable)…

False eyelashes

False eyelashes

Floats circle the historic centre

Floats circle the historic centre

Les Arcades

Les Arcades

Dancing bunnies

Dancing bunnies

Youngest in the parade

Youngest in the parade

Gymnastic display

Gymnastic display

And the fun continues next Saturday…

26th February. Dinner tonight was hand-made pork sausage with carrots, potatoes, celeriac, sage, thyme, rosemary and parsley, bay and garlic… the casserole braised slowly on the wood fire. After picking up my share of pork from our charcuterie weekend at Mas Coste, I am trying dishes I have never imagined cooking. Rillettes and paté will be stored in my ‘cave’ – the pantry under the stairs.

Pork sausage

Pork sausage

28th February. A beautiful warm, calm day for the market… leading up to carnival…

Ladybug, Céret market

Ladybug, Céret market

Marching girls

Marching girls

Les filles

Les filles

New floats this week

New floats this week

And different costumes

And different costumes

My neighbour

My neighbour

Louis, Bar Pablo

Louis, Bar Pablo

2 thoughts on “February 2015

  1. mesarapugs on said:

    Thank you for the diary of events, seasons, recipes, and daily life 🙂

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