Thursday, 10 September 2015

Sloe gin

While on a recent walk up to the Col d'Aulac, above the vallee du Mars in the Auvergne, we came across a sloe bush, bearing a small but healthy-looking crop. So we picked as many as we could reach, and now those same little berries are macerating in a mix of sugar and gin, waiting for the gin to turn a beautiful ruby red colour and to taste of those same sloes. Last time I made sloe gin here, I froze the fruit overnight, then bottled it, this time I just pricked them a couple of times with a sharp -pointed knife, put them in a glass jar, added the sugar and then the gin. I'll give the jar a good shake over the next few days until the sugar has dissolved, then put it away until later in the yea, or even next year.

From the Col, you get a lovely view of the whole valley and the surrounding mountains. Well worth the climb of over 400 metres. This view was taken on the way up, not quite at the top.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Summer reading

I've recently read Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain and enjoyed it, Her detailed descriptions of being, walking, sleeping and closely observing life on the Cairngorms are beautifully written and helped to give me a little more insight into the life of the mountains with which I am currently surrounded in the Cantal. The plateaux are used extensively for cattle rearing, both for milk, which is made into Cantal cheese, and for beef - meat from the Salers breed is highly valued and thus commands a higher price. Cantal cheese is found all over France and elsewhere , usually in its Vieux (Old or Aged) and Entre Deux (literally between two) forms.  Both are a bit like cheddar in texture, but with their own distinctive taste. The youngest form, Tomme de Cantal  is softer and milder and is used mainly for cooking, especially with potatoes to make aligot or truffade.
We occasionally walk up to the Plateaux de Trizac and once up there the feeling of space is immense. Last month we walked up the other side of the valley, almost up to the Promenade des Estives, a track which goes along the crest of the hills between two valleys, the Mars and the Auze.
The plateaux du Trizac

My other readngs have been quite mixed, varying from the light-hearted Lucia in London by E F Benson, which I think I enjoyed even more than the two previous novels in this series. I feel that I am familiar with Lucia and her social climbing attitudes, so could sit back and just enjoy the tale for what it was., a highly amusing tale of social climbing at its most obvious.
Alan Titchmarsh's tale "The Haunting" had some particular interest as it was set in Winchester and the Itchen valley, a very lovely part of Hampshire,  and familiar territory to me. The story concerns a school teacher who after his marriage fails, buys a small cottage with access  through an overgrown garden to the River Itchen, The cottage and the house next door were formerly part of an old mill, and the story of those who occupied the place in the past has resonances with Harry and his neighbour Alex and her young daughter.Anne. A fairly quick read but one which held my attention'
Sebastian Barry's On Canaan's Side was aquite different story, being narrated by an eighty-nine year old Irishwoman, Lily Bere, who had fled to America just after the First World War, with Tadg, to whom she has become engaged. Lilly looks back on her long life, bringing up a son, and later a grandson, who has just killed himself. Lily's life has been one of loss, but she has also found some sort of contentment though her employer, Mrs Wolohan, who herself suffers grievous losses.
Not a particularly summery read, but a gripping  and memorable tale.
Saplings by Noel Streatfield tells the story of four middle -class children, and their parents, and how all are affected by war. Seen at first as a happy family group enjoying a typical middle-class holiday at Eastbourne just before the start of the second World War, the story  soon hints at the chaos and disasters to come. After war is declared the children  are first evacuated to their grandparents in the country and are later sent away to boarding school, and separated from each other during summer holidays. The loss of their father Alex, who was more sympathetic to his children's emotional needs than their mother Lena, and of the home in London, was disastrous for them. I thought this a very interesting read and as someone who was at boarding while parents were abroad working, had a good deal of sympathy for the situation the children found themselves in. Their point of view is made clear to the reader, but not to the adults they are dependant on for their well-being,

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