Living well for less in France

Living well for less in France

Friday, 17 March 2017

STORMS IN CHARENTE AND A BLOWY START TO MARCH

One of the reasons we moved from the Languedoc Region was the constant winds.

Not known for a lot of wind here in Charente.......we go more for massive downpours of rain.....we seem to have been hit twice in the last month with the dreaded ORANGE ALERT  meteo message. Batten down the hatches, unplug your computer and prepare for the worst!!!

We dont have a lot to batten down so other than moving  the car away from the house, where falling tiles can cause major damage, we really just sit by the cosy log burner saying...oooh isnt it windy out there!!!

After storm one I discovered that my plastic greenhouse had become our first casualty.
I thought I was being quite clever tying the greenhouse to a tree. The storm...being unable to blow the whole thing away had satisfied itself by dismantling all the poles causing the shelves to collapse. The plastic was merrily blowing off the tree like an enormous kite and the contents of the greenhouse ..,everything you couldnt find space for in the garage  over the winter....was spread out like Steptoe and Sons yard!!

Apart from a couple of little tears in the plastic I was thankfully  able to peice it all together and decided to relocate it  to the bottom of the garden where it might be a bit more sheltered next to the shed.
So two weeks later with all my first set of seeds planted out....cucumber, butternut squash, I was happy all was well.

Sadly not to be .....enter STORM NO 2......what the heck is going on!!!! Snow in Spain, flooding in Marbella and WIND IN CHARENTE!!!!

Despite the extra shelter the greenhouse fell victim again....no damage to the greenhouse but  now I had lost my first batch of seeds. No chance of rescuing them from the mess of soil on the ground as the mice and birds had already beaten me to that!!!

We also lost half of the plum tree.It was in a poor state and had so many holes in it from the woodpecker making its nest .that Im surprised it hadnt gone before. It was such a sorry looking tree and really should have been cut down when we had the other poorly ones taken away but we just couldnt bear to disturb the woodpecker or all the other birds that seemed to enjoy making nests in the prepared holes.








So now the tree is looking even sorrier and the fallen branch has been cut up to use on the woodburner next winter ( no waste!!!) Still cant bear to take it down.....we even had some good plums from it last year as if to say "keep me keep me" .....So ...... here it stays until  the next storm.






Nervous stressed chickens

Last year one of our chickens died. The rest spent months  not producing a single egg.
It wasn't just our chickens every one in the Charente area seemed to have had the same problem.
Anyway.....as we were going back and forward to the Uk for periods of time  and we didn't want to constantly ask our neighbour to look after them....we decided to re home  them.Also as we were meant to be living as self sufficiently as possible it seemed daft to be keeping chickens and buying eggs!

The lovely Sue from the Astrofarm near Confolens took them in to mingle with her own flock. Although it took them time to settle ...and to get  their pecking order....they have so much more free ranging space than they had here so they are happily retired.

I really missed having the girls in the garden ....as much as I missed the eggs.   So as Spring is approaching I figured it was time to get some more.

We visited the monthly market which is held at Roulliac on the 27 th of each month. It was the same supplier as last time but when we got the chickens home we realised we were dealing with very very different personalities.

Saturday, 25 February 2017

WHATS NEW IN PENNY PINCHING. in 2016?



If you are a seasoned penny pincher then it's really hard to find something new that really is the bees knees!

I always get excited when I see articles on saving money to just find the same old stuff being recycled! I suppose the longer you do it the less chance there is of actually finding any new little gems.


So here's a call to those folk like me.......exactly what new have you discovered in 2016 !

Mine is as follows....


WATER
We saved 40 euros on our annual water bill despite having had a drought. That was down to less toilet flushing.  You know the  saying.......if it's yellow let it mellow.....if it's brown flush it down.

TOOTHPASTE
We used half as much toothpaste than in the previous year.......and that's .nothing to do with the number of times we cleaned our teeth. We changed to buying a particular type of tube of toothpaste.

One with a smaller nozzle!

Simple as that! You reallly do only need a pea size amount of paste but with most tubes it comes out at  the speed of the TGV. SMALLER nozzles are more controllable. One tube now lasts over 2 weeks instead of 1



Most of the money saving ideas are for small amounts. What about major savings ..... often this involves investing a lot before you get anything back which is not really an option for most of us.

What I would love is.......in the future....

All roof tiles on new houses were solar panels...... a replacement scheme for older houses

Local councils/ Mairies had centres with electricity generating bicycles and we could all go along and  do our bit! Along with Recycling centres that generated power for the community thereby saving money on local taxes.

Parks planted with perennial fruit and veg.

Any other suggestions!




FRUGAL FEBRUARY

We are just coming to the end of February and to the end of what I call Frugal Feb. This is the month when I really try to spend as little as possible on the weekly shop .

WHY FEBRUARY?

Most people make their cut backs in January after the mad spend of Christmas when money can be a bit tight or perhaps it can just be a New Years resolution to control your spending.
However I find January great for bagging bargains and deals here in the French supermarkets.

YES........SUPERMARKETS........AND WHY NOT?

January sales are not just for department stores and clothes shops.

Supermarkets must hate January....everyone has overspent and over eaten and the last thing people want to do is buy more food! So......

THEY HAVE TO FIND A WAY TO ATTRACT YOU IN,

You will find loads of special offers, deals and discounted foods so it's a good time to stock up on those bargains.

This year LEADER PRICE  were offering 10 euros off a 50 euro shop. I collected vouchers from the publicity papers and saved 30 euros.  Of course you have to use the vouchers separately so if you have  to travel a long way to the supermarket you have to weigh that up against any savings. Hubby and I just had separate trolleys for the first two vouchers so we only had one more visit to use the third.

I usually stock up on things like toilet rolls, tinned stuff, soap, cleaning stuff....generally the long life goods....and if you've got enough of that you can always get an extra bottle or two of wine to fill up your wine cellar!

FEBRUARY is a great time to take stock of what you have in your freezer.......and use it up.
Plan your meals round what you have left and use up all those single portion meals you saved.


The result is then......

CHEAP SHOPPING MONTH
CLEARS OUT FREEZER FOR CLEANING
HELPS YOU PLAN WHAT YOU NEED TO GROW MORE/LESS OF FOR THE SEASON AHEAD
USES UP THINGS BEFORE THEY GO OUT OF DATE

If you like the idea of having a frugal month but are not sure if you can manage it......FEBRUARY as the shortest month is the best time to try!














Wednesday, 7 September 2016

SAGE....GROWING,CULTIVATING, PRESERVING AND RECIPES

 SAGE( SAUGE) IS AN IDEAL PLANT TO GROW IN THE CHARENTE CLIMATE.





One of the easiest plants to grow and care for and it  will reward you with...

LEAVES  to use in cooking all summer long and right up to the first frosts

FILLING LARGE GAPS  in spaces in the garden where little else will grow. You can leave this  for a lovely display of purple flowers rather than for harvesting leaves.

ATTRACTS  POLLINATORS ...so ideal when planted beside strawberries, fruit bushes and trees

PLANTING


It likes well drained sandy soil. It tolerates really well with dry conditions and likes medium to full sun. Plant in SPRING...but only when the ground has warmed up.

Perfect also in well draining pots.

It easier just to buy a plant than grow it from seed unless you intend to have a large harvest.

Ideal to plant beside similar herbs/plants requiring little water...like rosemary and tarragon.

Avoid fertilising too much..this will make the plant bigger but will reduce the potency of the taste.

If you are using leaves on a regular basis then you will naturally be cutting it back. However at the end of the growing season you need to cut the plant back to half it size into a nice rounded shape.
It can very quickly get out of control....and will lose its flavour in the process.

Main plants will begin to lose strength of flavour after about 4 years.

PROPAGATE

Take a 3inch cutting from the tip of the stem and put it in a pot of Sterilised soil or vermiculite.
It should begin to root in about 6 weeks
Transfer into a another small pot of potting compost.
Once the root ball has formed it can be planted straight into the ground or into pots.

PRESERVING

  • Hang in bunches in the kitchen..out of direct sunlight till dried. Once dried keep in airtight jars
  • Sage vinegar....add sprigs to jars of apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar to use as a marinade or dressing. Takes about 2 weeks
  • Sage Oil...same as above but use olive oil
  • Ice cubes....put about a tablespoon of chopped leaves into each ice cube square then top with water, Freeze. Use as needed adding directly to soups and stews or defrosting and draining to use fresh.
  • Sage Butter. Mix chopped leaves into the butter and use a spread on warmed baguette. A nice change from garlic bread
  • Infuse dried leaves with honey to make a tisane/tea



RECIPES

What springs to mind when you think of sage...

SAGE AND ONION STUFFING

SO.....who doesn't remember growing having sage and onion stuffing with your Sunday roast chicken.

We didn't grow sage when I was young and the only sage and onion stuffing I knew then came out of a Paxo box!!!

There is no comparison to the real stuff. 


sage and onion stuffing balls

Ingredients

CHICKEN AND SAGE

 Layer sage leaves on the top of chicken breasts or thighs then wrap the breasts in parma ham.

Place chicken in a lidded oven dish or wrap in foil.. Pour over white wine to cover. Bake on a medium heat for 20 to 25 minutes...depending on the size of the chicken breast.

If you wish to brown off the meat  you can take the lid off for the last 5 minutes.


SAGE PESTO

If you follow my website you will know I have several recipes for pesto...nettle being a favourite...so here is another one to add to the repertoire.
3 garlic chopped
half a cup of walnuts or pine nuts
one cup of fresh sage leaves
one cup of parsley
quarter cup of olive oil
salt and pepper

just whizz it all together and serve with pork or chicken.

Just a few of the simple recipes I use.

Bon appetite!!

























Saturday, 30 July 2016

Coping with the heat in your garden

How is everyone managing in the garden now we are having day after day of searing heat.

Our whole veggie plot is looking particularly sad. No matter how much you water the plants are suffering in the intense heat. The soil is dry and lifeless.

Our French neighbour says the biggest problem is the difference in the temperatures between day and night.He also said that most French people were expecting a bad year due to the phases of the moon in 2016.
I have written about lunar planting before both on my blog and on my website... and having just been for a birthday treat to the Astrofarm  at Confolens, where I spent a day...and night...learning about Astronomy..I am more and more convinced it is correct. Of course it's not just planting...Its the whole gardening thing...planting, transplanting, cutting back and composting   It's a whole science in itself.
Following it can certainly do no harm.


JULY is a busy time in the garden ..most of your produce is going to be ready and you need to do something with it. Its not a job you can put off otherwise your produce will be OFF by the time you get round to it,  As well as enjoying it fresh from the garden...and believe me there's nothing nicer than just stepping out of the kitchen door to pick what you need....fresh and full of nutrition... how are you going to preserve what you have grown.



POTATOES...
. they can be stored in a cool dry place...perhaps in a hessian sack.  You have  to be very stringent and check each one for any signs of damage, green bits or anything else that means the potato will not store well. Not only will that potato go off but all the rest will too.

This week I have  dug up all of my potatoess as the heat has just burned off the tops and they will not grow any more.  I have individually wrapped in paper a batch and put them in  a cool place in the garage.These will get used first.
The rest I have blanched aand frozen in 2 person portion sizes....some for boiling and some for deep frying..
I am once again disappointed with the Binjte potatoes...they are certainly not the large ones expected. I will try a different variety next years. The poor crop means I only have about a 6 month supply. Any recommendations  for good big potatoes.

Also ready this week were the beetroot, garlic and onions.
The beetroot has been cooked and frozen in batches of slices and quarters and I have also made the usual beetroot chutney.

Garlic has been plaited


 and I am using the onions straight from the ground.



The taste of tomatoes fresh from the garden is unbeatable.....you will not enjoy the watery tasteless ones from the supermarket after having your own.
Lots of lovely salad dishes and recipes to use these in...also prepare them for fresh tomato sauce to use in pastas


so easy to make....chopped tomatoes, fresh basil, onions, garlic salt and pepper and a tablespoon of sugar.
Throw it all in the pan and cook till soft then whizz it up.
If you do not have a pressure canner then its best to freeze it as there is a lack of preservative in the mix to be able to to just bottle it without treatment.
Unlike chutneys and jams which have sugar to preserve them..foods like tomatoes and vegetables need particular attention. Check out a good preserving site...there is  high risk of botulism if not preserved in the correct way.

For more information on recipes and preserving check out my website which I am updating at regular intervals. ..livingwellforlessincharente.wordpress.com








Friday, 8 July 2016

LAVENDER BISCUITS

LAVENDER

image

Lavender is not only useful as a natural fragrance in your home or for making lavender bags for your wardrobe.....it's great to cook with.

Try....LAVENDER BISCUITS

DSCN1881
You will need...
2 teaspoons of washed and dried fresh lavender flowers
125 g butter
100 g caster sugar
one egg
150 g self raising flour
heat oven to gas 3
Cream together sugar and butter.
Slowly add egg a little at a time beating well in between...if it begins to curdle add a little of the flour
fold in the flour and flowers
Put  teaspoon size dollops on a baking tray  that is covered with waxed baking paper.
They spread so not too close together.
Bake for about 15 mins
as a variation grate in a little lemon rind