Life in the Loire after lock-down. 3rd June. Day 24 of déconfinement.

Louisa and Fred’s restaurant Chez Bruno did well yesterday. I’m so happy for them that people came out to support them.

It was such a beautiful day too, perfect for a first day back at work (although maybe quite tough in the kitchen wearing a mask all day).

The road alongside the chateau has been pedestrianised until September so the restaurants are able to spread out and use more terrace space. Amboise is such a pretty town. Sitting in the shadows of a beautiful monument while enjoying a glass of wine or a lazy lunch is very appealing.

Two green woodpeckers installed themselves in the garden this morning. One male one female, the male shimmied up the telegraph pole and pecked away for all his worth. The female perched on the line a few metres away watching. Every so often he would stop and stretch out his neck reaching his beak (or is it a bill?) to the sky. I was impressed. I hope she was.

I crept outside to find the binoculars to get a closer look but of course it was too late (as it always is). They upped and left the moment they heard a foot on the gravel.

Talking of birds, Pesto is on permanent high alert at the moment. An abundance of chicks leaving their nests for the first time has been a gold mine for her. She’s had three baby robins already which I find a bit galling.

I know it’s nature but it’s so cruel. She basically set up camp underneath the nest just waiting for them to fall out. And her patience was rewarded. I could sort of accept it a bit more if she ate her kills – that she needed them for food, but she doesn’t.

Let’s hope the baby swallows are a little more canny when they hatch. The Mum is now sitting on her eggs just by the wine cave.

The first orders for our Summer Guided Tasting Case go out today. Louisa and I put all the bits and pieces together this morning. I think our customers will love what they receive (I’m keeping it a secret for now).

Back home and into the kitchen. One of our customers doesn’t eat pork so I am trying out another recipe with similar flavours except using stewing beef. It smells delicious. Cooked with red onions, chilli, ginger, garlic, soy, brown sugar, wine, stock and five spice it’ll bubble gently in the oven until the meat is tender enough to pull apart with a fork.

That will be dinner tonight and of course served with the wine we have in mind. Le Breton 2019, a juicy Cabernet Franc in the Touraine appellation.

John and Sheila are coming for a stop-over tomorrow which we’re looking forward to. We’ve not seen them since the end of February and even then it was at a restaurant half way between us. Since we moved we always do ‘dinner bed and breakfast’ either at ours or at theirs. It means we/they can relax, enjoy a glass of two of wine and not have a long journey back at the end of the night.

It’s so long since anyone came to see us that I’ve almost forgotten what I need to do.

Nigel finished painting the spare room (where they’ll be) only yesterday. This morning he put the pictures up and it’s ready to go. They’ll be the first to stay in it since it was redecorated.

We’re making life easy and sharing the cooking (we often do that). They’re bringing the starter and dessert and we are doing nibbles, the main course and cheese. Can’t wait.

The good news for today is that French honey production has tripled in 2020. A short winter followed by warm conditions and some humidity earlier in the year provided just the right conditions for plants to grow quickly providing lots of pollen for the bees.

Confinement has helped too. Many areas were left undisturbed, meadows and embankments have been allowed to grow wild and everyone has been gardening, providing ample food for the bees that have taken advantage of practically perfect conditions.

And that’s just the spring honey. There is another honey produced in summer. All in all a bumper year for the bees.

The spicy beef was a great success. Just a hint of warmth from a single chilli lifts the dish and the star anise announces its flavour in the background without dominating. It was a great match with the wine too (Le Breton Touraine 2019 Cabernet Franc from Chateau de Montdomaine). Soft tannins ensure no clash with heat or spice and ripe fruit complements the flavours.

I served the beef with basmati rice and dressed it with some finely sliced spring onions, crispy fried onions, sesame seeds and some fresh coriander.

It’s my sister in law Caroline’s birthday today so we caught up with her and Nigel’s brother Matt after dinner. Caroline’s dad has ordered the Guided Tasting Case and Matt and Caroline are going to join in too. So happy they are participating.

As we went off to bed, flashes of lightening lit up the sky followed by distant rumbles. Perhaps we’ll have a storm tonight.