Life in the Loire on lock-down. 20th April. Day thirty seven.

I lay in bed listening to the blackbird singing loudly in the garden this morning. He sits on the top of our gate post. It really feels like he’s performing just for us. A little treat for an early start today.

Trying to get to grips with the latest update from Edouard Philippe last night. The press conference lasted more than two hours.

There was much talk about increasing PPE (masks, gowns, gloves) as orders from abroad make up the shortfall and also discussion of how we will probably be required to wear face masks on public transport as the lock-down is loosened on May 11th.

From today, relatives of elderly parents in retirement homes will be allowed to visit (under certain conditions). Schools will open progressively, perhaps by department or region or even just by part of the class.

There have been just under 20,000 deaths in France to date. Edouard Philippe is cautious but says he thinks France has the virus under control. What is clear is that life after May 11th will not be the same as before the health crisis and in his words ‘and probably not for a long time’.

It’s my sister in law’s birthday today. Another birthday during lockdown. A rather strange experience. Friends, family, even people that you don’t know very well taking the time to wish you well. I managed to catch her in between phone calls to send our good wishes from the Loire. My card didn’t arrive on time (which is a shame as in normal times I’m notoriously bad at getting cards in the post and this year I was determined to be efficient). My brother has made her a rather nice looking squidy chocolate cake. Could do with a slice of that myself.

Despite the weather still being a bit cold and chilly and the idea of a salad being a bit inappropriate today, I decided to forge ahead.

A mixture of baby spinach leaves and roquette in the bottom of a bowl, about a cup of cooked wild rice and some toasted almond flakes. A little dressing. Then some roasted cubes of butternut squash, half a red onion finely sliced, a tablespoon or two of barberries (been in the cupboard for a year, don’t know why I’ve never tried them before, they’re really good) and a diced avocado. Finally a liberal addition of crumbled Feta cheese over the top and a few more toasted almonds. Have I forgotten anything? I don’t think so. Oh yes, some more dressing poured over the top. Recipe Tin Kitchen gave me the idea and I adapted it to what was in the cupboard. Very tasty indeed.

Roasted butternut squash salad with feta, barberries and toasted almonds

This afternoon I walked up to the vineyards to get some fresh air. I made a short video talking about bats. Yes bats! Bats live in the caves around us and are natural predators that can help us with pests in the vineyard. The vineyard landscape around us is very open and bats need points of reference when they fly. One or two of the local organic growers have been planting trees to increase biodiversity and provide points of reference to encourage bats up onto the plateau.

Curry night tonight. We enjoyed a garlicky cabbage daal and a potato and cauliflower curry with a fresh cucumber raita and some home made chapatis. Chapatis are really easy. You just need flour, water, salt and a little olive oil.

To make 5 you need:

70g wholemeal flour

70g plain flour

Half a teaspoon of sea salt

1 tablespoon of olive oil

90ml hot water

Stir the flours together in a bowl with the salt. Pour in the olive oil and then add water until you can bring it together to form a soft dough (different flours absorb different amounts of water so you may need a little less or a little more).

I put everything into my Kitchenaid bowl and then knead it using the dough hook for 5 minutes but you can do it by hand just as easily. You need a smooth elastic dough. Cover and put to one side until you want to cook them.

When you’re ready to go, divide the dough into 5 small balls. Roll each one out on a floured work surface until thin.

Heat a frying pan or griddle until hot and add a teensy bit of oil to grease. When the pan is smoking, pop one in the pan and leave it for about a minute. Then flip over and cook the other side. Put it on a warm plate and cook the others.

There’s something very decadent about eating with your fingers. Tearing off pieces of chapati and loading them with garlicky daal. So good.

Jean Francois Merieau’s Cent Visages 2017, a spicy Malbec from the Touraine appellation made a fine partner. With floral notes and just a hint of violet it was very complimentary to the spice in the dish. You have to be careful with chilli heat as it exaggerates tannin. Opt for fruity wines and avoid big chunky numbers as they can clash.