Sunday, July 31, 2011

Wrought Iron Gates


There is just something so intriguing about peeking through a French gate. I always have the feeling of being locked out & wanting to know what lies beyond. My curiosity is peeked.




Certainly, the closed gate adds an air of mystery to already mysterious buildings. There is just enough of a view, to make you want to see more.




The wrought iron gate, much like the wrought iron balcony, is classic French & like the balcony, you find them everywhere. They provide entry into lovely shaded gardens, as does the robin's egg blue gate below.




Some are made more formidable than others. One must ascend a stone stairway to reach this gate, canopied with an arbor of wisteria.




Many of the gates are beautifully detailed & even though worn, a rusty patina simply adds to the charm.




There are those that are simple in design, but none the less, make a statement of pure elegance & grandeur.





Others speak of privacy within.





There are the overly ornate....




....as well as the plain.




Each gate adds a sense of style to the dwelling it protects.




When a gate is opened wide, there is a desire to step inside, into another world.




Monday, July 25, 2011

Plum Confiture


My neighbor brought me some plums from her garden. There were too many just to eat, but not really enough to make a full batch of jam. However, I do love home made jam, so I decided to make a small batch, just for the summer.




First I washed the plums & discarded any wormy ones... It is the country after all & these plums are as organic as you can get.




Then comes the time consuming part of cutting & pitting them, again cutting away any bad spots. These were actually very lovely plums. The green ones are called Reine Claude.




Next add the sugar. Usually it is equal parts fruit to sugar. I tend to add slightly less sugar, especially when I know that this jam will be eaten right away. I used a special sugar made especially for confiture, which contains natural pectin. I also added some of my vanilla sugar seen in the photo below. Perhaps you can see the bit of vanilla bean peeking out. It smells so good & adds such a lovely flavor.




Let the fruit & sugar rest until the sugar has dissolved, then put on the stove & bring to a boil.




Once it comes to a boil, the foam that forms on the top must be removed. This step seemed a bit endless. I was wondering if I would ever see the end to the foam.




Although it does seem like a lot as you are skimming it off, it does not in the end turn out to be that much.




And finally the confiture starts to run clear. At this point it has become a beautiful golden color. I had added some of the purple plums as well, which was probably a mistake. It will not affect the flavor, but they do diminish the purity of the color.





I boiled the jars to sterilize them. However, I do not feel worried about this step, as I know that my jam will not last long. I am not making enough to preserve it for a long time.




After the sterilized jars have been filled, put the tops on tightly & then turn them upside down. I really do not know why you do this step, but I know that you are suppose to & so I do.




Let cool & then enjoy! I could hardly wait to try my confiture. It was so good the next morning for breakfast.





Thursday, July 21, 2011

Growing

There are just so many wonderful things that are cultivated here. I never tier of seeing the fields of wheat, corn & hay, or the vineyards or the commercial orchards, with every kind of fruit tree.




There are more modest cultivations, too. When I first arrived the lavender was at it's peak. Now it has been cut & bundled, to be turned into scented oils & soaps.




Fruit trees are everywhere. In fact this area is considered the fruit region. There are many different varieties of plums, peaches, apples, pears & my favorite, cherries.




Walnuts are grown in this region too. I love the walnut oil that is produced here, as well as, walnut p√Ętes & spreads. The nuts are, of course, delicious just as they are. My favorite salad is one with walnuts, salade noix.




I do not have a photo of the wonderful melons that grow here, but they are so good, maybe they deserve a blog post all of their own. I could not help taking a shot of this pumpkin, though, growing up an old stone wall. The shapes of the pumpkins here remind me of Cinderella & her magic coach.




Speaking of walls, here is a pretty apple tree espaliered on a lovely old brick wall.




Aside from all of the vineyards in this region, you will also see many grape arbors trained over doors, windows & patios. They are always beautiful to see.




But my favorite without a doubt are the fields of yellow sunflowers. Although, I have posted many photos of sunflowers before, I guess for me, they are what I think of, when I think of my area of France & what grows here. They are what I love most to see when I arrive & miss most when I am gone.




Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Balconies

There is just something about French balconies. Perhaps, it is the many beautiful & intricate wrought iron patterns & designs that make them so appealing.





Although, there are similarities, it seems that no two are ever quite alike.





Made popular in the early 1800's, it is hard to go far in France, without seeing a lovely balcony somewhere.




It is not hard to imagine, that at the time, the choice of your balcony was making a major personal statement.




Today they are still lovingly used, festooned with flowers & plants.





Or like this one, giving a little shade from the intense summer sun.





There are, however, those that are just there, elegantly decorating old buildings, no longer in use, giving a sense of mystery & intrigue.




One can imagine how it must have felt to walk out on such a balcony so long ago & observe the surrounding view.





The city of Toulouse has many stately balconies, each one more decorative & intricate than the next.




But personally, I prefer the simpler ones in the smaller towns & villages.




On some taller buildings, there are double storied balconies. Although old & rusty now, one can picture how at one time they added a sense of style to grand homes & apartments.





There is just something so French about "French doors" opening onto an old iron balcony filled with plants & flowers.





Don't you think?




Monday, July 18, 2011

Numbers

In my little village there are no house numbers, nor names of streets for that matter. My sister was shocked. "How do you get your mail?" Well, the postwoman knows everyone. She often hands your mail to you personally, if you happen to be out & about, when she goes by, always with a cheerful little chat. The village is that small & that intimate. However, in larger towns & cities, like Toulouse, street names & numbers are essential & decidedly French in design.





Those in St. Antonin are regulated & all the same, an off white enamel rectangle with a rust colored border & numeral.





In Toulouse, however, the numbers vary greatly. From the super sized modern cement "2" above, to the most recent official blue metal disks, below. In this photo an up to date "3" is placed above an ancient crumbling arched doorway.





None of these quite have the presence, that the beautiful blue enamel plaques of Paris streets. But the older numbers in Toulouse are lovely in their own right.




A white enamel oval with black numeral was once the official style, as you can see in the "4" above & the close up of a broken & chipped "5" below.





A few other numbers I found interesting while wandering the streets of Toulouse, where the ceramic numerals like this "11".




Or the few numbers that more closely reflect the Parisian style as the "17" below.




I, also, found interesting the stenciled "29" on an elaborate piece of stonework.





This fading "30", placed on the beautiful rose colored brick, that is typical to Toulouse, next to the worn but intricate sculptural relief, also caught my eye.





But without a doubt the "45" below was my all time favorite! I am sure you can see why.