Panier of Plenty

March 2015

Welcome to the visual diary for March, as spring starts to take hold…

Canigou, driving down the mountain

Canigou, driving down the mountain from Mas Coste

Driving home to Céret from L'Albère

Driving home to Céret from L’Albère

Tuesday March 17th. After I prepared my breakfast, I ate in the dark. As soon as I sat at the table to admire the dawn I was captivated; deep storm clouds formed a layer above the clearest blue light dawning, as the fresh snow on Canigou’s peaks glowed as brightly as the moon might have (had it been visible). Venus was there, always the first and last to appear as a welcome beacon in this view.

It snowed down to 600m altitude yesterday, which meant I was in for a surprise driving to Mas Coste to make the daily batch of goat’s cheese. It was 4 degrees, as my frozen feet attested after clearing an outside storage shed. We are still checking supplies – preparing an inventory of necessary materials for the fromagerie. The season has started slowly as the quantity of milk reduces – intrinsically linked to the kids growing and needing a greater supply. This morning there were 22 litres of goat’s milk, which reduces to 20 litres of curds and whey, yielding 34 cheeses.

22 litres, now curds and whey

‘Curds and whey’

Creamy whey

Creamy whey in spring

Turned from their moulds

Lactiques turned from their moulds

As I drive past my old home each day now, I can stop and admire the changes in the potager. The almond tree is blossoming and the violets I transplanted have flourished. I have collected tiny lettuces which have self-seeded and started a terrace garden, to give them a home.

Amandier, Mas Reste

Amandier, Mas Reste

Almond blossoms

Almond blossoms

Wild violets, tamed

Wild violets, tamed

Mimosa still dominates the region as the hills and town blaze with colour.

Mimosa still in flower, everywhere!

Mimosa still in flower

I have just learnt from a local that the expression ‘vert espérance’ relates to the emergence of the fresh green shoots of spring…

Wednesday 18th March. Fresh honeycomb from a producer who sets up a little stall in the main street of Céret a few days a week… with walnuts, lettuce and grilled goat’s cheese, lunch today was a salade de chèvre chaude.

Fresh rom Pyrenean mountain hives

Fresh from Pyrenean mountain beehives

Essential

Essential

As the stall also had kumquats, I bought a few to experiment with – I have never made marmelade so will start with a small batch…

Kumquats

Kumquats

Finely sliced

Finely sliced

Pips added, for pectin

Pips added, for pectin

With water added, cooked until tender

With water added, cooked until tender

I am glad I chose to make a small quantity, I discovered that kumquats take time to prepare. 575g made nearly three jars: I added only half the weight in sugar, and used a mix of cassonade (brown, unrefined) and white sugar. The first stage of cooking was 20 minutes with the parcel of pips (medium gas setting) and just over half a litre of water… after removing the pips and adding sugar, the marmelade was ready in 15 minutes.

Friday 19th March. Canigou was ephemeral today, his snowy peaks seemingly hovering in the air above the planes of Roussillon, as we were shrouded in a misty haze…

Chickens seeking shelter

Chickens seeking shelter

Visiting regularly, we have learnt the names of the chickens that live in the garden below our kitchen windows: Josephine, Daphne, Blanche, Coucou and Geraldine (the prettiest with golden black-tipped feathers and tufted feet)… and perfected our chook noises…

Gardens below the kitchen window

Gardens below the kitchen window

Saturday March 21st, the Equinox. It is not just raining but pouring… as a consequence, everything is out drying, including the vegetables from the market! Brave stall keepers set up shop and locals bumped umbrellas as pavements flooded and wet our shoes… yet the general spirit is of celebration, for we need the rain, and the growers are leaping for joy.

La laitue feuille de chêne

La laitue feuille de chêne

Drying produce

Drying produce

Oranges still at their best

Oranges still at their best

Organic sourdough with chocolate

Organic sourdough with chocolate

A simple fresh lunch…

Smoked salmon, fresh asparagus and eggs

Smoked salmon, asparagus and eggs

Vide grenier treasures

Vide grenier treasures

Our terrace potager

Our terrace potager

Sunset, from the terrace

Sunset, from the terrace

The end of March. The clocks have gone forward and it takes some adjustment; rising in the dark but being able to dine on a sunny terrace in the evening. After heavy rain there is an incredible growth spurt as trees leaf overnight and lush grass pushes its way towards the sun. Suddenly, so many flowers are in bloom and the first fly and ants have appeared.

White legs have come out of hiding and bbq’s, outdoor furniture and ice boxes are in store. I have been waiting to finish arranging my terrace (everything, even in the commercial world, follows the weather and seasons) and now have ‘eucalyptus’ furniture, certified equitable. My new planter boxes filled with mesclun mix lettuces are thriving, as are the strawberries, making a home in pots. I’ve planted sweet peas and radishes, pansies, primroses and jasmine, that I hope will drape itself luxuriously on the necessary child-proof netting (that was already here, to protect cats from a daunting drop). Like in my previous garden, I can hear birdsong and running water.

At the fromagerie, production has dramatically increased to 98 litres. I made ‘formagets’ for the first time: the soft pasteurised desert cheese known as mato (Catalan) for the popular Mel i Mato. We will now make tommes twice a week and lactique rounds of chèvre daily. If I have time to pause, I sit and admire the blossoms as the fuit trees surrounding the potager burst into colour. Célestine spends her mornings at the crèche and loves the activities and play area, bikes and vegetable garden. They sing in Spanish!

Canigou’s recent snows are melting, as the mimosa covering the hills in my view fades.

This is also the season for roadworks – before the summer influx of visitors. And renovations, as town façades are refurbished. I am getting used to the new rhythm and learning to adjust to the cycles. I am also observing the sun… how it moves across the terrace and now floods in the kitchen windows. This is an integral part of moving: seeing where plants (and myself on a sun lounge) are happiest.

This month I have been to a number of performances at the local ‘La Salle d’Union’ after enjoying a contemporary flamenco concert. Céret hosted a mini version of the opera ‘The Magic Flute’ and on March 29th, a spirited recital by the group Quator Caliente, ‘au coeur du Tango Nuevo’.

2 thoughts on “March 2015

  1. Pingback: Fanfare | Panier of Plenty

  2. Pingback: France = Food | Panier of Plenty

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