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Monday, August 20, 2012

Feeding green caterpillars to the hens

We've had experience of hens before. When Max's parents lived in Rumaucourt they had a few in a  poulailler towards the rear of the garden during the more clement months and during the winter in a converted stall nearer the house. They were a scruffy looking lot though they did lay quite well much of the time.

A couple of months ago our new next door neighbours, Sylvain and Gaëlle, acquired two handsome looking feathered friends and installed them at the end of their capacious garden. Apparently they too are good layers with one or two every day albeit on the small side. However not since we've been feeding them during our neighbours' three week vacation somewhere in the deepest mid south of France. Nary un oeuf . We've been feeding them regularly with the mixed grain as requested plus

lettuce leaves and other quality kitchen detritus. I've even been picking the caterpillars off my sprouting broccoli and practically hand feeding the things to them: to no avail.

Max's mother is a bit of an expert and thinks that they are bored and so wont be big on the egg production front. Apparently it can be too hot for them too. And too cold. Perhaps the caterpillars are the wrong colour, size etc?

I suppose she could be right given that the two small daughters who regale in the space and wilderness that is next door's garden and play joyfully in it most days. The entertainment is rewarded by regular eggs. We are expecting the door bell to go any time now as the next people in this relay come for the keys. I cannot help but feel as if we have failed somehow. I bet they get an egg and it will be down to those tasty green caterpillars which I shall continue to poke through the fence.

21 August 10am
Nobody turned up so far to take the keys so once again I made my way with leaves, grain and broom to bat away the spider webs and...

Weekend audomarois

Three months have sped past without so much a thought of blogging let alone committing words to computer. So much time, so many events and so little summer; till recently.

We're not having a "main" holiday this year so we've been very hopeful of good times and good weather on the shorter breaks that we've enjoyed. They most recent being a weekend in the waterways and marshes of the Marais Audomarois based in Moulle in the Pas de Calais, sister to the Nord in the Nord Pas De Calais region. This was to be an extended version of the occasional get togethers we've taken part in with colleagues both present and past from Max's place of work, plus partners. Originally a "Come Dine With Me" event at someone's home and latterly at other events such as birthday parties (two sixtieths this year alone), it was at the first of these back in June that a plan was hatched to spend time away à huit. I was dubious to say the very least about spending time with people who, lets face it, spend most of their time gossiping about their work. Yawn. So it was, with some trepidation and the hope of lashings of rosé to dull the pain, that we set off that Saturday morning bound initially for La Cousinerie from where -thence sounds far too Swallows and Amazons - we were whisked to St Omer by one of the party and his wife.

Once arrived we waited in our "hosts'" ie the primary arrangers and local couple's, café bar for everyone to arrive, eased into the day by a "petite bière" for some but coffee for me. Early starts require copious amounts of caffeine to jump start the system. Already people were appreciating the ale and looking forward to sampling the local produce mostly from smallholders and independent growers.
A walk along well defined wetland paths later and we were in the forest having lunch. I quickly realised that this was not going to be a weekend of making do and camping fodder, baked beans et al, as the group gathered round to enjoy a locally sourced pâté, some farmer's cheeses and delicious bread albeit made by a new chain of bakeries, Boulangerie Louise, at a good price and to artisanal quality and taste so sought after by the French. All washed down by a quaffable rosé from a box. This was a good sign though I was wondering how far one small box of wine would go between eight...
A boat trip later we were soon in Houlle, next to Moulle, where one of the last remaining genièvre distilleries in the North is situated. We oohed and aahed over the introductory video and were on the point of ecstasy when the dégustation arrived and we were informed that, since 2012 is the two hundredth anniversary year of the founding of the distillery, we were to be presented with either a 20cl sample of the carte noire version of the drink or a recipe book attached to which was a slightly smaller version of the "cooking" variety. Being in couples we did the sensible thing of course and had one of each. The tour of the actual distillery was fascinating, the work of just five people using old and tried methods. It was inevitable that the shop saw good business afterwards, partly since their range is not widely available and eschews the bigger supermarkets,  and somehow Max found himself with a bottle of the red fruits variety and one of the 40% Carte D'Or (good for cooking too apparently).
Our gîtes were not far away and as soon as we were installed, some grabbed the opportunity to get rowing, two, promisingly, went back to St Omer to collect the food and drink, and I sat guard with the ninth member of our group, Pépette, the parrot. She arrived with the very best travelling accoutrements including a 200€ perch/backpack.

Our provisions arrived together with a portable electric barbecue. Tables were purloined from the empty gîte next door, chairs arranged and there was a frenzy of activity in the kitchen. Our lead couple had cooked al dente cauliflower and green beans from the area,  which were seasoned and dressed, large juicy prawns were décortiquéd and various plump sausages and cuts of meat were arranged on the barbie. A salad mixed and tossed, cheeses arranged ready for later consumption and soon the champagne flûtes were ready and primed for the beginning of a feast of good simple food.
Somehow we had chosen the only weekend thus far of the summer when both days were sunny and warm and we made full use of the opportunity to sit outside till the light had completely faded away before reparing to the séjour where we partook of our swag from the distillery as a digestif to round off the meal and the evening.

Another long walk along the canal the next morning had been preceded by a simple breakfast so it was only natural that we should want to sample a beer at the site bar before setting to with the lunch proper. Then after a foray onto the waterways by rowing boat, with some competitiveness and not just a little oar splashing, we, not least our two little otters, Serge and Max, were tucking into more pastries before setting off for home. Stopping for a cheeky snifter at the bar again, of course, to set us up for the journey.