As usual, we’ve been rather busy this month and we’ve had to stretch our wallets a little, but when the local farmer offered us a great deal on 12 kilos of organic beef, we simply couldn’t refuse. It is true that since moving to the countryside, we have reduced our meat intake considerably, but we are the first to admit that we love barbecues, and as far as we’re concerned, a barbecue just wouldn’t be the same without the meat! We were a bit unsure about how much space it would take up in our freezer, so just to be safe, we bought a new chest freezer on Le Boncoin. We had planned on buying one anyway, in order to freeze more produce for next winter’s stockpile. The meat was delivered right to our door and we had a range of different cuts.
Being typically English, veal has never traditionally been ‘on the menu’ for us. Having grown up hearing horror stories about veal calves in crates, it never even crossed my mind to eat it, until now! On our way to school, we drive past the calves every day and knowing they are being reared on our doorstep and in good conditions, we reluctantly agreed to try some veal fillets. Wow, was it a taste sensation…veal fillets, fried in golden breadcrumbs with a roasted red pepper sauce, green asparagus and leek and potato gratin. One of the best home-cooked meals I’ve had in years! Still, just because we now have a freezer full of meat, doesn’t mean we will be eating it every day. Hopefully it will last us a good few months yet, that is providing we don’t have too many barbecues!
Then again, in order to have a barbecue, the other main ingredient is, of course, sunshine, which we haven’t had too much of lately. The month of May has been generally wet and windy, with the odd few hot days here and there. Following the advice of the locals, mythical though it sounds, we delayed planting outside until after the ‘Saints de Glace‘ (Ice Saints name days) to be sure our new plants would not succumb to a late frost. The rain has been filling our polytunnel water containers, so we have, at least, been able to test out our newly-installed solar pump.
Another exciting delivery came this week in the form of a McCulloch petrol grass strimmer, as our old electric strimmer just couldn’t reach the extremities of our garden and was most impractical. Unfortunately, due to the recent downpours, we have yet to try it out, but the harness means that even I should be able to handle it, without moaning that my arms ache after five minutes’ use! All this rain has been a little too great for the grass, which is growing uncontrollably on the hugelkultur and borders. I’ll show you some more photos of the garden next month, once we’ve got to grips with the strimmer and tidied it up a bit, but in the mean time, you will have to make do with our beautiful flowers:
Our two main expenses this month, besides the meat order and the unexpected freezer purchase, was the ‘etude de sol’ (land survey) and fuel order for the boiler. Having been given the OK from our bank to get a zero percent eco loan to finance the reed beds, we thought we’d get things moving and get the land surveyed. The visit lasted just over an hour and cost us just under 700 euros, but it is compulsory if we are to have an individual reed bed sewage system. Although we haven’t yet had the mayor’s signature of approval, we were pleased to hear that our land meets all requirements and better still, new government legislation means we now only have to have one filter bed, instead of two. There are similar reed bed systems in nearby Villefranche de Rouergue and Decazeville, but if it all goes through, we will be the first to implement this type of ecological sewage system in our commune. Well somebody has to lead the way! Our fingers are tightly crossed all the same.
We were extremely lucky to have ordered some fuel for our boiler (and at a good price too) just days before the petrol crisis started in France. If you’ve not heard about what’s been happening in France lately, here’s a quick recap. French president, Francois Hollande, is about to introduce a new set of labour laws that mean it will be easier to hire and fire people in times of economic difficulty. This has caused great outcry amongst French people who have been protesting for weeks. In turn, this has led to the barricading of French oil refineries, which, along with strike action and mass panic buying, has left many parts of France with either no fuel whatsoever or limited fuel stocks at the petrol station. Here in the Aveyron, it has not been too bad. Initially, the larger towns ran out of diesel and petrol was rationed to twenty litres per car, but in our local towns, there was no fuel refill limit, just a large increase in fuel prices! In Rodez, I heard stories of people queuing for over an hour, but I believe it has been even worse in parts of northern France, with tourists being stranded at the roadside, unable to find any at all.
While I’ve been busy tending to my tomato plants in the polytunnel, Pete has been mastering the art of lime plastering on cork in the living room. It all began with a large tree trunk from the garden being erected in the middle of the wall. This will become, in due course, the left-hand side of our ever-so-natural bookcase. Then we borrowed an enormous, professional cement mixer from our neighbour to mix the lime chalk and sand. Here’s what it looks like so far.
Pete came up with the brilliant idea of capturing ‘a moment in time’ by getting us all to leave our hand prints in the lime plaster before it set. We just have to apply the limewash paint now, once we’ve worked out how to make it that is! We are relying on YouTube videos more and more these days!
The month of May also saw the big arrival of my parents. My mum retired at the end of April and they plan to move over here gradually, with a two month stint to begin with. They arrived mid-month, the same day as the removal van. At last, their part of the house is starting to look more familiar and homely, with their bed, sofa, TV and cookery books! It didn’t take my mum long to put some new curtains up and with her eye for a bargain, she has already started buying second-hand furniture for her bedroom. Unfortunately my dad’s been in bed with bronchitis since his arrival here, so any decorating or plumbing has had to be put on hold for the moment. My parents were not, however, the only new inhabitants Chez TêteBlanche. It would seem the ants quite fancy it as their home too. We tried every natural method possible to get rid of them, with red wine vinegar being the most effective, but in the end, we had to buy a couple of ant traps to be sure to eradicate the nests. Effective as the these traps are, I am afraid to say that ants are part and parcel of living in the countryside and I’m sure they will return before long.
We did have one welcome visitor to our garden, in the form of the migrating Hoopoe bird, which left us all glued to the window in amazement for quite some time!
For our 7th wedding anniversary, which just so happened to fall on one of May’s numerous bank holidays, we decided to take the kids to the local animal park in Pradinas. Whenever I go to these type of places, I always have mixed feelings. I loved watching the kids’ faces when they came eye to eye with the wolf pack…they were genuinely fascinated (if not a little scared!) but you quickly realise how unnatural the environment is for the animals and it just doesn’t seem right to keep them in captivity. But, like the many other families who feel the same way, we gave in and went anyway, because we too, are big kids at heart, oh and we have a soft spot for big brown bears!