Thursday, 29 September 2011

Cracking nuts

There doesn't seem to be a generic French word for nut. Une noix is specifically a walnut, and other nuts such as peanuts, almonds, etc have their own names.

Well we have two mature walnut trees in the garden, and several productive hazlenuts, and since their nuts have been on the ground for a little while, I thought I should set about gathering them and shelling them.

I think that the squirrels must have found the walnuts first, judging by the number of split shells all around. They have nicked all the good ones too, because once I started cracking them, the kernels turned out to be almost all black and shrivelled.

The hazelnuts were a better story, and after half an hour's patient work with the nutcrackers I had a bowlful of sweet and crunchy nuts. Those that I didn't eat ended up in the nut mix that I have with my yoghurt in the mornings.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Lots of squash

I like butternut squash, and they're not that easy to find in France, so I thought I'd have a go at growing some this year. I also planted some acorn squash, just to see what they're like.

The trouble with growing your own veg is that if they crop well, you end up with too many. So I have 51 squash of various sizes. Even after giving some away, that's a lot of squash to eat over the next few months. Good job I like them.

They are easy to cook; you just have to heat the thing in whatever way you like, until it becomes soft. Probably my favourite is the simplest: you slice the sqash in half, remove the seeds and cover the exposed flesh with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, cook in the oven (220 degrees), exposed side up. It will take about an hour for the squash to be ready. Serve as is, with a knob of butter in the seed cavity.

This year has been quite wet, and my tomato plants only yielded a small crop before they rotted. I think the fungus might have infected some of the squash, since the fruits have a stained appearance on the skin in some areas. This hasn't affected the flesh at all, though, and they still taste good. The acorn squash (yellow and green in the pictures) taste very like butternut ones, by the way.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Pots 2 - Native American weed pot

The general style of the Native American weed pot is of a bulbous vessel with one or more narrow, elongated openings. They were traditionally used for displaying grasses in flower or seed.

This one we bought on a holiday trip to Arizona. Its style is traditional but the execution is modern. The glaze is shinier, and the abstract pattern more complex and better-defined than would be the case on an original.

I brought it home and displayed it on the window-sill, and enthusiastically gathered some grasses from the garden, together with their seed plumes, to put in it. Two days later, my eyes were red, itchy, puffy and streaming, and I was sneezing all the time. Taking the grasses out of the pot solved this problem, and I can now with some confidence state that I'm allergic to grass pollen. And the pot is nowadays for decoration only.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The Marmot challenge

Although marmots are easy enough to see when moving, they are difficult to spot when stationary. One of their defense tactics is to stop perfectly still, whereupon they are nearly invisible. I spent many frustrated minutes staring at mountainsides, conviced that there was a marmot to be seen, if only it would move.

So here is today's challenge. Can you spot the marmot in this photograph? He is visible, clear as day, once you have found him. How long will it take you? (It's probably best to click on the image to see a larger version)

Sunday, 11 September 2011


The plantlife on the mountainside was interesting. I've grown "alpine" plants in my garden for some time, but this was the first time I'd seen them in their natural habitat. Houseleeks, for example, and Aubretia were growing wild. Colchicum were sending up their as-yet leafless flowers. The trees made for an interesting bonsai effect, and the wild raspberries beside the path were delicious, and refreshing at the end of a long walk.

Friday, 9 September 2011


The journey to Meribel was an 8-hour drive. We took it easy, driving in two-hour stints and taking a lunch or coffee break between each one. The elapsed journey time was 10 hours. Easy. We'll do it again I'm sure; it's comfortable enough for a short, last-minute, long weekend break.

On our first evening there, the local cows were not far from the village, and their bells were making a huge din. I found it surprising; most of the cows were lying down but enough were moving to make a lot of noise. The video isn't that interesting, but it's the bells I wanted to capture.

Thursday, 8 September 2011


No photograph can really give you the impression of what it's like to be on the mountain. Up in the fresh air, looking around at the peak you are on, and down into the valley, sometimes through the cloud, is quite special. But here's a few photos to give you a taste.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011


I have always wondered, during the occasional ski holiday I have taken in the past, what the mountain environment would be like in Summer. This year we found out, with a one-week walking holiday at the end of the season. It was just as peaceful as I had imagined it would be, and the scenery is spectacular and more colourful than in Winter, when pretty much everything is white.

Marmots live on the moutains but hibernate in Winter, so we had never seen a live one until last week. They are easier to see than to photograph, though. This picture was taken on the last walk that we did. The marmot, having been taken by surprise by our presence as he rounded a rock, decided that the best thing to do was to stop still. This gave us a bit better photo opportunity than normal.

The video is of the first marmot we saw, climbing a scree slope at the foot of the mountain. I hope you're impressed. Good, isn't it? I'm thinking of applying to be a BBC wildlife photographer.

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