After the rain

Last week we had two full days of rain – the first real rainfall since the spring!!  I was thinking of all the parched plants everywhere, and how this rain might just save some of them.

With rain, it’s either feast or famine here in our area – very rarely do we get a steady drizzle which lasts for days, and which would be so good for nature.  No, here it was heavy rainfall, torrential at times.  Slowly but steadily the ditches filled up with water, and the dried up gulleys turned into raging torrents.  The river in Saint-Chinian rose some, although not as much as I have seen it rise in the past.

The rain stopped Friday morning, and I had arranged to meet friends for lunch in La Caunette that day.  On the drive to La Caunette the sun started to peek through the clouds.  Before passing through Agel, there’s a spot where the river Cesse runs very close to the road.  For most of the year, the river here is dry, and in the winter there is sometimes a little water flowing, as in the picture below.

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After the rain, the river looked very different!

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With the sun coming out, the countryside looked sparkling, as though it had just been scrubbed clean – well, it really had had a good clean with all that rain!

Lunch at Restaurant La Cave in La Caunette was lovely; the food was good home-cooking, and as tasty as always, and the company was great!

Everybody chose the same starter from the daily menu, a tart with bacon, comte cheese and grapes.  The pastry was crisp and flaky, the tart hot from the oven, and the salad leaves were perfectly dressed.

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Everyone agreed on the same main course too: Parmentier of ox tail.  Succulent pieces of ox tail meat were hiding under a layer of mashed potatoes and carrots – a bit like a shepherd’s pie, really, and very tasty!

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When it came to dessert, opinions differed, and we finally had some variety on our table! 🙂

Pear poached in red wine:

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Chestnut mousse:

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Speculoos flan with caramel sauce (speculoos are spiced cookies from Belgium):

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All three were excellent.  We drank a very nice red wine with the meal, which came from Domaine Le Cazal, just outside La Caunette.

After lunch, a stroll around La Caunette was de rigeur.  Here’s a view of the village from the iron bridge, with the river below.  For most of the year there is no water in the river!  The founders of the village knew why they built the houses a way up the hill from the river!!

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In the village, there was water flowing seemingly everywhere – from under houses, above a garage, down gulleys…

Usually, la fontaine is a steady jet of water, rather sedate – the extra water pressure made for a very different jet!

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All too soon, the water will stop running and everything will go back to what it was like before all the rain!  I leave you with two pictures, both showing beautiful autumn colours.  One is of fruits on a vigne vierge, a Virginia creeper, the other is of pomegranates.  I hope you’ve enjoyed our little outing as much as I did!!

 

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Out for lunch

La Caunette is a village which is all too often passed by, lying as it does on the other side of the river, on the way to Minerve.

I have good reasons to visit La Caunette on a regular basis, because of friends who live there.  For casual visitors there are a number of attractions which should entice you to stop:  one is Restaurant La Cave, which was created by three sisters, Christelle, Frederique and Sophie, in what was their father’s old winery.  The building is ideally located on the only square of the village, right across from the Cafe.  Inside, the old wine vats have disappeared, but the barn-door like entrance still hints at the previous use, and the name is of course a give-away.

P1090661Inside the decor mixes old charm with modern colours and furniture;  just to the right of the door is the old wine press, and the old stone walls and wooden beams are very much in evidence.  The chairs are comfortable and the tables laid with nice tablecloths and napkins.

Good first impressions are always nice!  Once we were settled, one of the sisters came with the menus.  The daily menu at La Cave is priced at €15.50 and consists of a starter, main course and dessert, AND includes a quarter litre of wine, as well as coffee!

The choices for the starters were Tarte au Roquefort and Cappuchino d’Asperges – the first a kind of Roquefort Quiche, the second a creamy asparagus soup with a topping of whipped cream – both delicious!

The choices for main course were Seiche aux oignons and Filet de Poulet a la creme – cuttlefish with onions and chicken breast with a creamy sauce.  I had the Seiche and it was deliciously tender and tasty.  One of my fellow diners was very happy with her chicken!  The only thing which could have been improved was presentation!

For dessert our little group had Tiramisu aux Speculoos – tiramisu made with spiced biscuits, and I had the strawberry smoothie, which was a perfect end to my meal!

After coffee we set off for a stroll around La Caunette.  I had not visited the oldest quarter of the village since the roads had been re-laid, a couple of years ago, so was eager to see the improvements (they are good!).

A little topography: La Caunette is a rather long village, built between the cliff and the Cesse River.  For a lot of its length the village is just one street wide.  In the oldest part, the Carambelle, there is a little more space and the houses cluster right up against the rocks.  For the adventurous, right at the top there are few steps hewn into the rock, which allow you to climb up to the caves.  It is thought that the village grew from those early cave dwellings, and at one point there were troglodyte houses in the village.  These days the caves look completely abandoned, but no doubt the land belongs to someone.

After we left the Carambelle we meandered past the fountain (La Caunette has very good spring water), and on to the newer parts of the village.

On our way back to the car we stopped at the church, which was unfortunately locked.  It’s an ancient structure, and very impressive close up.  From the cemetery, the views of the surrounding countryside are wonderful.

So next time you are headed for Minerve, stop at La Caunette for a little walk, a meal at La Cave or a drink at the Cafe in the square – I promise you’ll not regret it!

Oranges and Lemons

You wouldn’t really know from looking at these photographs, but the weather last Saturday was particularly cold and windy.  I braved it to go to La Caunette for the Fete de la Bigarade, an annual event which always happens towards the end of February.P1010375

The Fete de la Bigarade takes place over two days, and for me there are always plenty of reasons to go:  Pepinieres Baches from Eus have a huge stand selling all kinds of wonderful citrus trees AND Seville oranges for making marmalade.

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This year I treated myself to a Kaffir Lime tree, whose wonderfully fragrant fruit and leaves are a “must have” ingredient for a Thai green curry.  Try it if you can get some fresh leaves!  There are so many different citrus trees and it’s all very tempting, especially when they have all the various citrus fruits laid out for inspection.

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There certainly is variety, and if I had more space in the garden and perhaps a greenhouse I would try some of the more tender varieties.  As it is I will have to make sure that I bring the Kaffir Lime tree inside before the first frost.  Another reason to go to this fete is that there are lots of other interesting plants, many of them from specialist nurseries, which come from far and wide.

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A lot of these plants are hardier than we imagine, and tolerate frost pretty well.

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I was very intrigued by the aloes, but could not think where I would put them without giving up something else in my garden.  Several of the exhibitors had their stands outdoors, among them my friend Gill from La Petite Pepiniere de Caunes, where I can always find something interesting – another reason for the visit.  Other exhibitors are located in one of the tents – Valerie Tubau from Le Jardin de Valerie in Agel was one of the lucky ones.  She was selling her new range of marmalade along with her regular preserves and jellies.  Her lemon marmalade is sensational and you can find her at St Chinian market every Sunday!

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This Clivia was found in another tent – I love the flowers but have not been very lucky growing this plant. Close by was a stand selling nothing but mimosas, and at another stand I found the beautiful Equisetum.  In the tent next door was a stand by Boulangerie Patisserie Claude Coussy from St Marcel sur Aude – they had some delicious crunchy cookies, which were orange flavoured.

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The fete takes place in and around the village hall in La Caunette, and in the hall there were several more stands, including a wonderfully colourful display of orchids,

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a stand selling all things saffron (Daniel Cazanave from Soual in the Tarn), among them this wonderful looking saffron syrup,

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and then there was chocolate!!  Emmanuel Servant of Douceurs d’Oc had brought along some great things.  Emmanuel is based in Marseillan (home of Noilly Prat – that’ll be in another post some time!) and produces wonderful hand-made chocolates.  He had some gorgeous looking (and tasting) chocolates involving oranges!

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And the pistachio cakes were great too!  Of course I also  came away with a bag of Seville oranges, which I’ll use to make a Seville orange tart, and my take on key lime pie, using Seville oranges instead of the limes.  No marmalade this year!  Oh, and somewhere I have a recipe for a Seville orange rice brulee, which is divine!  I can just see that this could be devastating to the waistline 🙂

This year I gave the lunchtime meal in the village hall a miss – it’s usually good fun and the menu looked great, but I’d arranged to see friends in La Caunette for lunch, so perhaps another year?