Happy August, my friends! I'm feeling distinct twinges of summer winding down, though here in California, it's not so much that the harvest is ending, or that the temperatures are lowering; no, we're still near triple-digit heat and the garden has come into its own, pumping out fruit and veg like I planned for it to, way back in January. It's just that end-of-summer feeling with school starting again in a couple of weeks, and all that goes with that: Figuring out where the backpacks are, trying to finish that summer assignment, and finalizing calendar dates.
However, summer ain't over yet, and I've got lots to share with you. During my self-imposed computer break, we also traveled: Last Christmas our gift from my folks was a family trip to Europe, and we spent a scant week in England and another in France, all of us together with Tim and Lois (my parents), and Stewart and Niki (my brother and his partner). Mom and Dad lived in London for a few years in the late 90's, and they wanted to show that neighborhood to Adam and Kate (our kids). So we spent time in London visiting their flat and some of their favorite haunts, exploring some tourist attractions, seeing Kinky Boots, walking a lot, eating scones, and doing some serious drinking in pubs (research for Tom's brewing projects, natch). We also took a couple of day trips to the East and South of London, visiting Chartwell (Churchill's home), Hever Castle (Anne Boleyn's childhood home), Oxford (particularly Christ Church College), and Blenheim Palace. We had a hilarious couple of hours in a local coin-op laundry and a middle-of-the-night hotel fire alarm, all of which added to the great stories of this interesting week in England. Despite some of the dire clouds you see in the photos here, we had zero rain while in Europe. Both England and France were in the middle of heat wave (near 90 in England the whole week, mid-90's in Paris, near 100 in the Loire Valley) and hadn't seen rain for months. England looked a bit like California, which was particularly sad for us.
After five terrific days in England, we hopped on the Eurostar and had a wonderful train ride through the Chunnel to Paris. Tom couldn't help comparing that experience to his daily commute, and I'm afraid BART (our metro) came up woefully short. (Though we did appreciate the air conditioning on BART after riding the Tube in a heat wave.) We had a very short two days in Paris, but we got the best overviews we possibly could; by walking, by yacht on the Seine, and in antique Citroen cars driven by four irascible Frenchmen whom we adored. Everyone but me got to tour Musee du Louvre with a Frenchwoman who had studied art history; I was sick for that afternoon and got to know my hotel bathroom quite well. That same art historian took us on a culinary tour of Paris and those that could eat enjoyed local cheese, wine, and charcuterie. We fell in love with the long summer days of France (sun rising before 5, and setting well after 10), and got to see the lights twinkling on Tour d'Eiffel while we were eating the cheese and dessert course on our yacht on the Seine. Parfait!
We were then picked up by our guide, Marina, who lives in Tours. She drove us south of Paris down through Chartres and into the Loire region, which is famous for its farms. We spent several days at an renovated hunting lodge in the tiny town of Onzain, and used that as our home base for traveling around the countryside. The valley is gorgeous; the farms/acreage are much smaller than most of the states, and just as in England, bordered by forests and hedgerows to keep ecosystems intact. Many of the farms advertised that they were biologique, or organic, and were very proud of that. The Loire grows most of the country's cereal grains, so we saw fields of wheat, barley, rye, corn, sorghum, sunflowers, and alfalfa. We toured a mushroom cave which was carved deep into the limestone of the region; visited a local organic winemaker specializing in the wine of the region, Sauvignon Blanc; and tasted fresh chevre at a local goat farm, where the farmer and I discovered we were kindred spirits despite our language differences. Our guide took us to an outdoor market near her apartment and we met a local chef there who purchased items that we then took back to her restaurant and prepared for lunch. We played croquet late at night on the vast green lawns of the hunting lodge and took sunset walks in their kitchen garden. We ate bread, cheese, and ham with every meal and drank wine nearly as often. By the end of our week in France, I was understanding conversations pretty well, but was only starting to gain the courage to use my high school French to join in. Both Tom and I felt that if we'd had another week there, we would have been chattering away (haltingly).
It's always good to come home, especially to find that the person who lived in our house had done a good job taking care of the property and animals. Now time is filled with processing the harvest and trying to duplicate some of the things we ate and drank in Europe, as well as the pre-school busyness of last-minute appointments etc. Our days have found a new rhythm as we adjust back to our time - we go to bed early and wake up before dawn, getting garden chores done before the heat of the day. Pick an apple from the tree, eat it while harvesting green beans, turn the compost, hunt for ripe cucumbers, fill the water fountain for the bees and birds, put cardboard under the ripening pumpkins, start the dehydrator, pick tomatoes, and repeat. Repeat. Repeat. The rhythm of summer.
Here are the recipes from Tours a Table, the class we took with Frederique. You can substitute ingredients, of course, skip others, make it your own. I've written down the recipes exactly as they were given to me, so you might see some grammar differences or measurement differences. All three of these recipes were delicious.