Life in the Loire on lock-down. 2nd April. Day nineteen.

Squirrels are cute aren’t they? Especially the sweet little red ones that we find here in the Loire with their bushy tails, acrobatically leaping from branch to branch.

Except they’re not so cute when they’re in your roof. Keeping you awake all night as they seem to be rolling nuts across the floor and munching away through your electric cables.

We have squirrels in the roof and have absolutely no idea what to do about it.

Our house is partially built into the hillside and we can see where they’re getting in. Nigel built up a mound of earth to block the entry point just to be sure and yes, the following morning, it had all been moved away as they came in for the night. What to do?

I’ve been looking on the internet for humane ways to get them out. Poison is absolutely out of the question. There may be babies in there.

It seems that we might be able to set a humane trap at the entrance using walnuts, peanut butter and other enticing morsels. We could then check the trap and if we find a squirrel inside then we can drive it to woodland 3 or 4 miles away and release it.

There doesn’t seem to be a box to tick on the ‘attestion de déplacemen’t that mentions driving squirrels to another destination. You can imagine the scenario.

“Bonjour Madame, can I see your attestation please”

“Bonjour Officer, err, certainly, here it is.” I have ticked the box that says ‘deplacements pour motif familial impérieux’ (tending to urgent family needs).

“And where are you going Madame?”

“I’m going to the woods 4 kilometres away to release a squirrel?”

“To release a squirrel Madame? You have a squirrel in the car?”

“Yes Officer, in the trap in the back”.

“I’m sorry Madame but this does not count as tending to urgent family needs”.

“Oh but it does Officer, we can’t get any sleep as it’s rolling it’s nuts in the roof above our bedroom and munching away at our electric cables”.

“That will be a 200€ fine Madame.”

Anyway, I don’t suppose there is a cat in hell’s chance we’ll find a humane trap around here any time soon. Looks like we have some more sleepless nights ahead.

Busy day today with 2 trips out of the house. We share them out (the trips that is). It’s only fair that we both get out from time to time.

Nigel went to the market this morning in Vernou sur Brenne. We’re trying to support local farmers and producers that are really struggling at the moment. He bought some cheese from the fromager and some meat from the butcher that will keep us going for the next week. Interestingly he said the market was full of eldery people not respecting the social distance. What’s going on there? We should all be doing our bit.

Another day another loaf! Today I’m making a ‘bloomer’! It’s just about to go into the oven and will be served up warm for lunch with a pea and lardon soup that I’ve made with the last of the stock from the boiled ham I cooked for dinner the other night.

I left Nigel in charge of the cooking as I popped into Amboise to collect my order from the epicerie. No traffic on the roads. The chateau of Amboise looks beautiful in the distance. Thousands of yellow tulips adorn the centre of town with the promise of spring. The Loire is calm. It has no idea what troubles lie beneath.

We were able to enjoy a coffee sitting outside in the garden listening to the birds singing and the bees buzzing around the wisteria. And then. Boing, boing, boing. There she goes. Squirrel Nutkin pops her head out from under the eaves and dashes across the garden. That’s her – the one that’s keeping us awake at night.

This afternoon I caught up with a few phone calls and emails. I had a chat with Evelyne de Pontbriand of Domaine du Closel in Savennières. Such a dynamic woman and one of the few that truly embraces wine tourism in Anjou with a tasting room that is open every day of the year.

Was open. Not now of course. We used to take our clients to see her and Elise who was in charge of wine tourism. They were always charmed by the place and delighted at the welcome they received. We talked about the recent frosts and Evelyne told me that the candles had been lit in the vineyard on Monday and last night. Thankfully they had taken the decision to leave the canes very long and only the buds on the extremeties had suffered any damage. Elise is on chommage technique like so many of us at the moment.

We had a quick turn around the vineyards early evening. The portable ‘tow and blow’ machine was installed in Jacky Blot’s Clos de la Bretonnière. It’s the only one you’ll find on the plateau above us in Noizay. Other growers rely on candles and lighting fires to create a smoke screen.

Dinner tonight was chicken legs marinated in a mixture of natural yoghurt, rose harissa, garlic, salt and olive oil roasted in the oven on a bed of veggies (potato, sweet potato, red onion, aubergine, carrots, whole cloves of garlic). A sprinkle of fresh mint lifted the dish.

The marinade is quick and easy. A couple of tablespoons of yoghurt (Greek or any plain yoghurt will do, mixed with one clove of garlic finely chopped, about a heaped tablespoon of rose harissa, half a teaspoon of salt and a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Mix it all up and smother the chicken with it (legs, thighs or breasts). Harissa is a hot sauce/paste that is normally made up of chillis, peppers, garlic, salt, olive oil and sometimes spices. The harissa I used in the recipe was rose harissa, gently perfumed with roses and very mild so I used quite a bit. Other versions can be quite fiery so be careful to check the heat before adding too much. Start with a teaspoon if you’re not sure and keep adding more. The Tunisien harissa from Cap Bon is much hotter.

Roasted chicken with rose harissa, yoghurt and mint

Our wine of choice tonight was a Cabernet Franc from our friends Claude Cabel-Airaud and Philippe Chigard at La Table Rouge. Philippe is a micro-vigneron in our village and his vineyards are a delight to see. Totally natural, abundant with wild flowers and herbs, fruit trees and buzzing with wildlife, everything worked by hand. No chemicals, no pesticides, no tractors. Little corners of paradise to lift the spirits. Drinking their wine always brings a smile to our faces.