Life in the Loire after lock-down. Weekly update 19th July 2020.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I came downstairs on Monday morning.

Kettle on, tea made, I open the door to let the cat in and what do I see? Two kittens playing on the grass. Two, no three, no four, no five. Five kittens lolling about, climbing on the plants and their Mum, the little black cat that lives opposite lying on the decking making herself available for early morning snacks.

I have to admit, we panicked a bit. We knew that Bigi had had kittens some time ago and we suspected she was still feeding them as she seemed to be permenantly thirsty and hungry when she came round to see us. But we didn’t expect her to bring them all over.

What to do? Her owners seemed to be away. More panic. Had they abandoned her? Where was her food and water? Were they kept inside or outside? We resolved to wait until later in the day and try again. Maybe they were out at work. Stay calm.

The day passed, I went to work in the tasting room of Tania and Vincent Careme after lunch. It was busy with a steady flow of people (mostly from France, one or two from Italy, Belgium). They bought lots of wine. Time flew.

On arriving back home I was greeted by a rather desperate looking neighbour. “Have you seen any kittens anywhere? ‘Our kittens have disappeared!”

“Oh the kittens” I replied. “They’re all in our garden, all five of them. They’ve been there all day”.

Shere relief on his face as I opened the gate and there they all were still clambering in and out of the borders, hiding under the decking and wrecking the hydrangeas! We scooped them up and returned them to their proper home along with a rather reluctant mum.

Panic over. We were just happy they hadn’t been abandoned. Our neighbour explained that all five kittens are ‘reserved’ and they’ll leave mum in about 2 weeks. Then, they will have her sterilised (they said that before she got pregnant…). We had all sorts of awful scenarios going around in our heads.

Phew! That was an exciting start to the week.

On Tuesday we drove over to catch up with friends in Anjou. A night with John and Sheila and then brunch with Mel and Hywel.

The weather turned a bit chilly as we drove over. Apero in the garden with jumpers on, Sheila’s Tom Yum soup warmed the cockles and set the spicy mood and that continued with John’s Korean Diegi Bulgogi pork served in lettuce leaf wraps with lots of kimchi and a rather addictive umami hit spicy bean sauce. Wow – really, really delicious!

We moved inside for the cheese course, served with a small dressed salad and crusty bread befoe finishing with my contribution, a dark chocolate tart with orange pastry and an orange mascapone cream.

Way too much wine.

We sat in the kitchen until late moving from wine to Cointreau, took turns listening to our favourite tracks on Spotify, laughed lots, had a few tears (that was the wine) and finally dropped into bed.

Up bright and early for a much needed cup of tea. Back to bed for an hour. Head under the shower. More tea. That’s better. What we need now is a lovely hot brunch. Hooray, that’s on the menu today.

Off we went to Mel and Hywel’s beautiful manoir near Blaison-Gohier. Mel and Hywel bought it three years ago, completely renovated it and today it’s a really luxurious bed and breakfast with the option of an evening meal. We’re rather lucky as we experience it as friends.

Hywel is an ace cook and had prepared a delicious brunch. Home hot smoked trout and cold smoked mackerel (or was it herring?), cucumber and dill salad, hot potato cakes, sausauges, Shakshuka eggs (cooked with harissa, red peppers, cumin and tomatoes). To follow, cheeses, pastries, croissants and breads. Coffee, Crémant de Loire and fresh orange juice alongside.

Just what the doctor ordered!

We’d packed our cossies but sadly it was too chilly to have a dip in their natural salt water pool in the garden. Next time…

On Thursday evening we went for a ramble through the vineyards. The air was still and warm, softy touching our shoulders as we wandered through the rows having a look at the grapes, working out whose parcel was whose.

We came across friend Philippe Chigard watering the vegetables in between his vines. Philippe and his wife Claude call themselves ‘vignerons jardiniers’. He has a series of tiny parcels, two of which are in our village, and in between the rows he plants potatoes, haricot beans, beetroot, courgettes. Around his vineyards you’ll find fruit trees – apricot, quince, pear and apple. Herbs; rosemary, thyme, lavender and wild flowers; daisies, phacelie (the bees favourite), clover.

These tiny vineyard parcels are little corners of paradise, buzzing with wildlife, bees, birds, insects, with the scent of flowers and herbs in the air.

We caught up with each others’ news and said hello to Nouche, his gorgeous dog, patiently waiting in the van for him to finish.

As we came away Philippe gave us a huge panier of vegetables from the vineyard potager. What a lovely surprise that was. Long yellow courgettes, big fat round ones, some tiny new potatoes, some plums.

Dinner that night was pasta with courgettes and fresh thyme. From the ground to the table in half an hour. I see courgettes on the menu for some time…

Saturday night was another Zoom evening. The second set of tastings for our second set of customers. We linked up and enjoyed an hour and a half of tasting and wine talk. Louisa in her house, her daughter popping in from time to time to have a peek, me in mine, our friends, family and clients joining in from their homes.

I’m enjoying these online tastings. It was a beautiful balmy evening so we sat in the garden afterwards with a glass of wine talking about who was there and what was said.

A gentle 6km stroll through the vineyards with a girlfriend set me up for the day on Sunday morning. We tried to choose a shady route which is easier said than done when up on the vineyard plateau. The sun’s heat was already bearing down on us as we got back.

Lunch in the garden, a snooze, a swim in a friends rather beautiful swimming pool and dinner in the garden. For a moment we almost felt like we were on holiday.

Courgettes in one form or another have been on the table this week. No surpise there! I made a big batch of Indian style ratatouille (using all the usual suspects with curry powder, smoked paprika, mango powder and ground cardamon) and lunch yesterday was some lovely cruncy chickpea and courgette fritters served with more of the said ratatouille and tzaksiki (greek yoghurt with grated cucumber, salt and a little garlic).

Our wine of the week was Vincent Careme’s newly bottled 2019 Sec Vouvray. We served it alongside roasted cod with prawns and a rich creamy sauce. Quite a big wine bursting with fruit, hints of white flowers and with a pronounced agrume note on the finish. It certainly reflects the sunny 2019 vintage without being out of balance. Delicious!

Another happy week in the Loire!