Monday, July 30, 2012

Pumpkin flower follow-up

I found a packet of tempura mix I'd forgotten about in the cupboard - yes, I'm sure I should be able to make my own tempura batter but I gather it's better with some rice flour which I didn't have.  I picked a bunch of the pumpkin blossoms, which do all seem to be female, and which flower at the same time as the embryo pumpkins form - a couple of them the baby pumpkin came away with the flower.  Stripped all the green bits and removed the stamens and whatever else the knobbly bits in the middle are.  They were heavy and waxy and the perfume was a bit overwhelming.  I looked around for other things to make into tempura; had carrots, red pepper, a sweet potato,courgettes (zucchini), lettuce in the kitchen, and gathered a few very small broad (fava) beans in their pods, some comfrey leaves and flowers (in the picture) and foraged some sorrel leaves and nasturtium flowers from round and about on Molly's walk.

Checked recipes for dipping sauce; lacking mirin and dashi I had to settle for various alcohols in store and some grated strong red radish, and added ginger, garlic, chopped Welsh onion. Not brilliant, but passable.

The pumpkin flowers thus cooked really were utterly delectable, the perfume turned to sweetness and they were soft and light and quite substantial. One of the best parts of a very good platter of tempura - the broad beans were a pleasant surprise cooked thus too, the comfrey less interesting than I remembered, the nasturtiums good but a bit too delicate.

I would urge anyone to eat pumpkin flower tempura!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The pumpkins are coming...

...and I'd grow them for their flowers if nothing else.

They glow like yellow moons from the green dark under the leaves and among the stems,

They are thick and soft as dusters, and have a delicate perfume I'd not known about before. 

A friend gently suggested that one can eat these blossoms, fried in batter or stuffed or just in salad, which I knew but have never tried.  That way, she said, I won't end up with quite so many pumpkins...

True, I agreed, but... perhaps I could just eat the male ones?  I hate the thought of culling any of the tiny emergent globes, even though if they all reach maturity I'll quite possibly be able to supply the whole of Brittany with pumpkins.  However, so far almost all of them seem to be female and fruiting.  The vines are growing a mile a minute now, but apparently it's necessary and desirable to prune them, which I hope to be able to bring myself to do.  It's got to stop somewhere.

(This one is in fact a courgette, of which I have one lone plant.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

What rot

Readers of this blog will know that compost is a subject/substance dear to my heart.  After a session of pond cleaning, pea and bean harvesting, comfrey pulling, peony pruning and hellebore hacking, as well as the ever-ongoing, never-concluding war-on-weeds, I thought the bins were looking particularly luscious and lovely, just on the cusp of decay. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Molly and the mock orange ghosts; wine rack; hammock

Molly doesn't see or hear very well these days, but she doesn't let it hold her back, she has a rich and vibrant life of the imagination, and she likes to go outside and bark indignantly at total figments of it.

However, a few weeks ago, when the mock orange (philadelphus) was in bloom, we thought perhaps she might have some basis for her alarm: the two mysterious figures who could be seen conversing on the other side of the hedge.  In windy weather they nod and wave and gesticulate with particular animation.

In an attempt to enter more fully into the world of Molperception, the above editing job posits what things might look like with doggy colour-blindness and Molly-myopia to boot.

'Ahem, well, perhaps I'll just come in now...'


The cupboard-under-the-stairs is now all rubbed down and painted up, a job which gave me the opportunity to finish listening to the Naxos audio-book of The Divine Comedy, which in turn provided the chance to bemoan 'I've been through Purgatory in there!'. 

We then decided we needed polystyrene bottle racks in there to make the best use of the storage space; let's just nip down to the hardware shop outside Moncontour, we said, they're bound to have them there!  Three hours, three supermarkets and one DIY superstore later we finally brought them home weary but triumphant. Only to find they didn't quite fit the space.  I would have simply sliced the top layer off, but though the day was waning, next thing I knew, Tom was outside with a saw; 'Just hold it a moment' he said, and tell me when this cut meets that one!'

The resulting combination of angled sections, showing a preternatural spatial awareness combined with meticulous precision (and no protractor or template used), meant that the adjusted bottle rack slid perfectly under the turn of the stairs without a glimmer of daylight showing, an ounce of brute force required or a single bottle space unnecessarily lost.  I whooped with delight.

Reader, this is why I married him.

Today, summer at last. albeit a cool one, which is fine with me. A whole afternoon in the hammock, (hung under the back lean-to so as to profit from the sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon, so I don't mind a bit sharing it with the washing line, the potting and work benches and some building materials) with Pierre-Jakez Hélias. Lovely.


Friday, July 20, 2012


Apologies of the routine kind for blog neglect; my sister came to visit and the weather got a bit better, so one way and another I've been otherwise occupied somewhat.  I'll try to use up the backlog of intended blog matter (sound a bit bodily and unpleasant, that), and to get round some of yours again. 

First off, alliums. Back in the heady, onion-planting days of spring, when we believed there might one day be a summer in this part of the northern hemisphere, I split a bag of Roscoff pink onion sets with Plutarch.  The Roscoff pink onion is a vegetable dear to both of our hearts and palates (if you can be doing with reading this post from five years ago you may deduce one reason for this, as well as observing what a loquacious blogger I used to be...), but until lately it has been difficult to procure the sets to grow one's own, since they are appellation d'origine contrôlée.  Even these were not permitted to be sold as Roscoff onions, but only Roscoff-type, but for the first time were being offered for sale in the Jacques Briant catalogue

Plutarch has been conscientiously giving news of his onions' progress, which has been a little disappointing I gather owing to the dismal weather we've all been having (not that I'm complaining when I see how some people have had it).  I took these pictures a couple of weeks ago now, and in the spirit of competitive old codgers at country produce shows, I think I can probably gloat that mine are bigger than his.  This is in absolutely no wise down to any superior gardening skills on my part; from everything I gather Plutarch's veg patch is Hyperion to a satyr compared to mine, but simply down to the fact that even in a rubbish summer, Brittany is still that bit warmer than Kent. And perhaps the little pinkies are just a bit happier at being that much closer to their origine contrôlée, who knows? 

These are they, after a shower of rain, who'd have thought it, in their raised bed (which is somewhat weedy), with some chives in the background.  The bulbs themselves are a bit bigger still now, but the tops are getting scruffy and flopping about even more untidily now.

I like it when they do that braiding thing.  

And a lot more gratuitously arty shots of raindrops on onion tops.

The other members of the onion family I wanted to show you were the tree onions, which I've learned are even more picturesquely called Egyptian walking onions, because, in effect, they walk around the garden, springing sets from flowers again and again, then drooping and dropping a step and then another step away.  They go on forever like this, it seems.  Vegetative life is very strange, and very largely knows no death.


That's it for onions for now, more stuff from the garden to come, I dare say.

Monday, July 09, 2012


Recently, I very happily agreed to help to curate an on-line exhibition of art on an alphabet theme, called Alphabet Soup, at Clive Hicks-Jenkins very wonderful Artlog. This followed the success of the maquette exhibition at the same place (all to be found here), and the enthusiastic interest in Clive's own alphabet primer, a riotous delight from moveable Anatomy, Bird and Cage to Xerxes king of Persia, the Yule Log and Zephyrus.

Visiting the Artlog, as well as seeing the marvel of Clive's own work, one can be led along avenues of exploration of more exciting, original and talented visual artists than you can shake a stick at, and getting involved with this project has already brought me into contact with quite a few of them.  I don't have to even be in their league, just be willing to be sent their work, sort through it and present it at the Artlog in the fullness of time.  Shellie Byatt, whose idea Alphabet Soup was, is also involved with the curating, so I've got some serious back-up.

The idea of the exhibition is to create alphabet pictures, including lettering, you know as in 'A is for apple' or similar.  No need to complete a whole alphabet, but we reckoned a minimum of about five letters of your choice. If we get a lot, which we might, we might just take a selection but will happily provide links to where further work might be seen on-line. The other stipulation, to create a harmonious feel to the final exhibition and to offer a bit of a challenge, especially to artists who love to colour, is that it should be in black and white (and shades of grey between, of course) but each picture should contain one other colour, perhaps as an accent, so for example if 'E is for Eve', she might be holding a red apple.

The deadline is the end of November, with a view to presenting it in the week or so leading to Christmas.  A long way off yet, it may seem, but giving time to develop ideas without rushing busy people too much.  And it's open to all, not just professional artists, so please feel free to join in.  Submissions and enquiries to be sent to me at lucy-dot-kmptn-at-gmail-dot-com.  No rush to send stuff in, but it's nice too know who and how many might be involved.  Again, the exhibition will be at Clive Hicks-Jenkins Artlog (not here at Box Elder). The call for submissions is here.


And suddenly there are alphabets everywhere.  Wondering about the possibilities of something fruit and vegetable or otherwise food based, I went to my copy of Larousse Gastronomique, which was handed on to me very generously by an older friend who said she no longer wanted it, and this particular, English, edition dates from the year of my birth, 1961 (it first came out in 1938).  

Moules marinières - in terracotta on a blue chequered table cloth with a nice glass of wine, what could be better? - adorn the frontispiece, but I also found, which I had never noticed before, that each alphabetical section has a delightful illuminated letter heading, in black and white.  Here's a selection:

It's fun identifying the elements: 'A' is easy, apples of course, and also apricots, artichokes, asparagus, but what is the quarter-circle in 'B', along with the beans, blackberries, and presumably bread, or brioche? I suppose it's a piece of beef.  'E' for eggs is beautifully simple, but is that odd-shaped thing in 'G' Gruyère cheese or what?  It took me a while to work out that the circle under the herrings in 'H' was a selection of hors d'oeuvres... 

The other book I looked out was this one.

This was under the Christmas tree for me the year I turned six, or perhaps seven.  We had had an exceptional (we didn't travel abroad much as a family) holiday in France and Switzerland, and I had expressed a wish to learn French.  I remember its cloth bound spine with the red capital letters of the title visible outside of the wrapping paper - it's a big book and perhaps there wasn't enough paper or something.

It was a very special book, still is.  The quality of the paper, print and binding is very good, and it's all colour, which not many books were then.  I can't imagine it was available in the small town where I grew up at the time and was probably bought in London.

It has a selection of vocabulary in alphabetical order:

again it's fun to try to work out what the pictures show -since they don't always feature in the chapters themselves; the fish, which I thought might be a bony anchois, (anchovy) is I think in fact illustrating les arêtes de poisson, fish bones ( and checking the spelling of that, I find that the same word is used for the beard of barley, an etymological connection nicely shown by the picture.

The green thing in the bottom left of 'B' defeats me,

as does the red bit of origami in 'C'.

Each word used in a sentence, here are a couple of the more lugubriously amusing ones (most of them are nicer)

This apple is bad. [You bet, look at that worm in it!] 
Roland is a bad playmate. [ Not only does he kick his mate in the fesses but he carries a catapult, wears patched trousere and his cap the wrong way round, le petit voyou! ]

I have cut myself, my blood flows. [ Never mind, it can water the furrows.  If it's impure anyway.]

Then there are lovely full page illustrations of different categories:

 Veg and fruit - for an English provincial child of the 60s, raised on Mrs Beaton rather than Larousse Gastronomique, not only the French words but the very existence of celeriac, endives, aubergines and quinces would have been a mystery.

Fish: now Larrousse G says a cod is cabillaud, which is what we buy them as now; morue is salt-cod.  Aiglefin (haddock) is more usually now églefin.  Fish translations continue to exercise me.

I love this illustration of geographical features.

Here's the page for 'K'; I can remember my mother telling me there was no K in the French alphabet.  Alas she was not always right (just annoyingly often).  Indeed, one of the Gallic concepts most detested by red-blooded English traders seeking metric-martyrdom begins with a 'K', that's to say the kilogram!

I would like to say that the book inspired an early epiphany and long standing love affair with the French language which has stayed with me always, but I'm afraid it didn't. In fact it was originally published in France for French children of school age as a 'playtime book', a fun adjunct to learning to read and write their own language (this was in 1963, pre-1968, rather stodgy pedagogic times...). I was no infant prodigy, and without access to spoken French, barely having learned to read and write in English, I found it frustrating and closed to me, and knowing it was a special, precious book added to rather than overcoming this.  I was momentarily impressed with its size and colour, but frankly, at that age I liked naturalistic pictures, preferably of animals - another board-back picture book I had at a similar age, containing photos and called 'Animals Everywhere' I devoured endlessly.  Quaint little French children behaving correctly in incomprehensible language didn't really do it for me.

The book was passed on at some point, and I assumed it was lost, if I thought of it at all.  Then a few years ago, while visiting my brother and sister-in-law in Mayenne, I was browsing their bookshelves and found it again.  It was very worn and battered and had been sadly abused and much scribbled on, it had presumably been given to my niece (she who now makes me laugh more than anyone but who was something of a petit voyou herself when she was small ) to play with.  But they had kept it, and were happy to see it returned to me.  Now I enjoy it very much, and though some of the language is a bit old-fashioned, I find it quite helpful for some areas of vocabulary and construction.

What made me look at it with regard to the Alphabet Soup challenge were the alphabet letter forms on the endpapers, which I can remember fascinating me.

They are entirely constructed with animal forms, in black and white and tinted each with a different single colour.  They look much older than the style of the rest of the book, and the curious thing is the animals shown often don't seem to have much relation to the letter they are forming, in French or English -

The beaver in 'B' might do, but the fish doesn't; the hinds and hounds in 'H' might, but none of these correspond in French, and the marmoset and lobster creatures have no names beginning with 'J' or 'Y' in either language that I know of, so altogether they are a mystery, but an appealing one.

(Apologies for the poor photo quality of these images; the books were both rather too big and cumbersome to scan, and the light wasn't great when I took the photos, but they give an idea.)