Kestrels again

Just seen a red, black and white-headed woodpecker (Pileated), land nervously on the bird table.

This is a first–they are such shy creatures.

He managed a half-minute feed before a jealous Jay galumphed him off.

These jumbo jets of the bird world–recent arrivals–scatter all before them; the whole structure rocks as they land and take off.

The table has seen less activity lately.

Partly because the weather has improved–so there is food for the birds in the newly- awaked fields and hedgerows.

But there is another factor: Our kestrels are back!

Well, we can’t be sure that they are the same couple who raised their youngsters in the loft last year but we like to think they are.

The grill in the little round window that offers a shaft of light to the loft–an oeil-de-boeuf (bull’s eye)–at some stage got pushed aside, offering enough room for a cozy nest box.

Last year we saw them settled in–then missed most of the action, while we crisscrossed America during the month of May.

(Missed the Spring in the Tarn too–never again!)

This afternoon photographer Meredith stealthily caught five hatched chicks moving together in a blur of white feathers–like a mini moshpit at a rock concert.

Mum and Dad spend the day on allez-retour trips into the countryside behind the house bringing back tidbits for the new arrivals.

We watch from the terrace holding our breath, not daring to move, as the returning bird approaches.

Alice our neighbor says as long as the birds think you are otherwise engaged it will carry on regardless.

We spot the bird about two hundred meters out, floating in on the air currents–but with a target to hit.

As it gets closer to home, we see it judging the distance, using its wings for balance–like a tightrope walker with a long pole steadying themselves on the wire before skipping onto the launch pad.

Suddenly it veers off to the left.

It senses an alien presence–a sleeping Beau or two peeping-tom humans; then circles again and approaches as before.

At the last minute it veers off again–this time straight up and over the roof and out of sight.

We wait for a long minute–transfixed.

Here it comes again on a different approach–third time lucky.

This time, no hesitation–in it goes, folding itself into the opening–a brilliant soft landing.

Mission accomplished–cargo delivered.

But the mini mosh is never satisfied and a few moments later, it leaves again–and the hunt resumes.



Here is the recipe (re-published) for in-season asparagus as requested on Facebook.


The lovely green spears were in Realmont market today at reasonable prices.

I bought a kilo of straight ones for Friday dinner with our guests, arriving from the USA.

A second of less than perfect (less expensive too) specimens–asperges tordues (twisted)–to make this very simple frittata for lunch.

I have five eggs left in the pantry and a red onion. Add some cheese and seasoning–and there you have the ingredients!

Something different to do with this vegetable with a relatively short-lived season and a use for the cheaper spears with the less than perfect appearance.


  • 250gms/8oz asparagus spears–prepared weight–ie tough ends removed and sliced on the diagonal into smallish pieces
  • 1 red onion–peeled and halved and sliced
  • 3 tbs olive oil
  • 5 eggs–beaten


  • 2oz grated parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper

Serves 2 to 4 people 

Soften the onion in the olive oil until it begins to caramelize a little–10 to 15 minutes

Add the asparagus pieces and mix in adding some salt and a twist or two of pepper.


Cook the mix over a gentle heat until the asparagus begins to soften. I like them to retain a little bite–about 10 minutes.

Let this cool.

Then ease into the beaten egg mix.


Fold in the cheese and check the seasoning.


Heat a tablespoon of oil in a 81/2 inch pan to hot–and fold in the egg mix and spread it evenly.

You can use a 10″ pan of course but the frittata will be thinner.


Immediately turn the heat down to the lowest and cook for 30 minutes.

There should be just a small pool of liquid left on top.

Finish it under a grill for 30 seconds.



Be careful taking the pan out of the oven–it is very hot, as I was reminded when the pan touched the side of my hand by accident–ouch!

Loosen the frittata round the edges of the pan with a fish slice or spatula and ease it out onto a favorite platter.



“High on the DING scale!” said Meredith.







Broadly beans

Our neighbor and friend, Joan, dropped by this week with a bag of broad beans (also known as fava beans)–a big bag.

The chore with broad beans is that they have to be shelled before you cook them.

And often de-podded too.

As they mature the outer skin becomes tough and the true delicate taste is missed.

Handy to have guests around in the broad bean season.

“Anything I can do?”

“Well funny you should mention it…”

If you are lucky and have a generous neighbor with green fingers, you could, like us, be gifted with beans so fresh and young that they only require shelling not de-podding too.

Joan is doubly generous; the beans she gave us were picked that day, fully-shelled and ready to cook.

Joan and Meredith went walking round the lake this morning and the beans came up–so to speak.

How was I proposing to cook them?

Joan is eating vegan at the moment, so a favorite way chez nous–broad beans with shallot and bacon–is not possible chez elle.

For lunch today I forgot about the bacon and gently softened a shallot in a tablespoon of olive oil.

Then added 8oz of the ready-to-cook beans*, two tablespoons of water, some fresh mint leaves and salt. I covered the pan and cooked the beans to just tender–about 10 minutes**. I added a little more water along the way, but not too much–as the delicate taste risks being dissipated.

You could–if you are not eating vegan–crumble some feta over the cooking beans, which melts nicely into the water to form a little sauce.

But watch out that the feta doesn’t make the bean too salty.

Thank you, Joan!

Our doubly seasonal lunch included these asparagus roasted with flakes of pecorino and olive oil


*I cooked the beans from the freezer where I had stored them in 8oz baggies, immediately on receiving them. Straight into the pan on a gentle heat.

** Since the beans today were coming from the freezer, they took a bit longer to cook. If you’re working with fresh, it’s more like 7-8 minutes–but you need to watch over them and test.


Turtle doves…

I am sitting in the courtyard and two turtle doves are–well–courting–in morse code.

It is perfectly still with a suggestion of a spring breeze–quite sharp.

Ne’er cast a clout ’til May be out…

DOT DOT DOT (OVERHEAD)Dot dot dot (is the answer a little futher off).

Now the dots are fading–a meeting perhaps, behind the church!

I’ve been waiting for the “cuckoo morse”–longer and softer as a call.

At last–yesterday afternoon–there it was–a brief, but unmistakeable COO-coooo.

A sign that things are moving on.

There are others.

Our neighbor–farmer Pierre, passed earlier on his tractor.

He’s been busy.

Some of his fields are showing garlic, looking proud–about six weeks to harvest.

Others are pale green with wheat and barley–shifting in the breeze.

Into this patchwork of greens and looking out of place are empty fields of brown–finely tilled–waiting to show….

My guess is sunflowers.

Last week the markets were struggling to offer anything new–but today, it changed.

Small artichokes tightly packed and bunched in fours, peas and broad beans have joined the upstanding green and white asparagus.

It is a relief to see some action.

Dill, tarragon and chives joining the parsley this week and large spring onions.

I have been busy too; making Vignarole–a vegetarian spring speciality in Roman trattorias.

The same artichokes, peas, broad beans and spring onions with a shredded lettuce.

The preparation is labour intensive–but the cooking is the simplest imaginable.

The eating as I remember is sublime.

We’ll see if it gets the DING from Meredith ce soir.








“What are you going to do with the church?”

Yesterday we received a strong hint from the building herself.


Our friend, Lowrie Blake (who runs cello workshops around here in summer) came over and drew the bow of her beautiful cello across its strings– and a magical sound resulted!

It was a thrilling and significant moment in the restoration de  l’église.

It pointed the way forward as the notes of Bach’s Minuets 1 and 2 and the Sarabande from the Suite in G major filled the space–and sent shivers down our backs and brought a tear to the eye.

As Lowri played Bach excerpts, one could almost feel the church

E X P A N D with pride.

Lowri said she was impressed; playing was no effort–she floated on an acoustic cloud.

In some places, she says, it is an effort to play–not in this church.

Woodwind and strings, she suggests, are ideal combos–quintets and quartets.

“How long, oh Lord, how long have I had to wait to be appreciated!”

The battered, old building has offered its services to the small parish since it was constructed 150 years ago–built to accommodate the growing population of believers.

There were benches inside to seat well over 60 “adepts” (followers)–more like a hundred–many of them now at rest in the cemetery.

On All Saints/Toussaint (November First) there is still a trickle who come to pay respects to their ancestors and some who remember the church from their childhood–but this congregation has dwindled.

When we arrived in July 1990, the church was still functioning for funerals and two masses a year.

A few years later it was closed on the order of the Mairie of Lautrec (who owned the building).

Trop dangereux! Too dangerous a state to remain in operation.”

There has been movement in some walls but clearly our church had no intention of yielding to the storms and the tempests, high winds and torrential rains or the dire predictions of a temporal power.

I’m still here, she cries, and the doubters can go hang!




When’s lunch?

Left-over lentils aka Puy–too good to waste! What to do? How to employ?

Salad!  Served with broccoli frittata (with leftover broccoli) for lunch today.

These beautiful little grey-green lentils are already dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar from dinner Saturday–and tasty as is–but might welcome additions.

Cucumber, red onion and avocado beckon.

The mint is showing–and I’ve some already chopped parsley.


Left-over Puy lentils with Cucumber, Avocado and Red Onion Salad

  • left-over (cooked!) lentils
  • 1 small red onion–finely sliced
  • 1 ripe avocado–diced
  • 1 small cucumber–peeled, quartered lengthwise, seeds removed and diced
  • parsley and mint–chopped
  • salt (to taste)

Pick a pretty bowl and park the lentils.

Add the onion, cucumber and avocado and herbs. Carefully turn everything over.

Sprinkle over a little more red-wine vinegar lentils, olive oil and salt before turning it all over one more time.

It got a firm M.A.Meredith Approved!





The tomb of St. Martin in Tours was rediscovered on December 14, 1860–which encouraged a revival of popular devotion to St. Martin.

Our church–named for St. Martin–was built at this time.

Jean-Luc and his son Gregor are here to complete the first tranche of work on “our” church—the cleaning out and making safe–after it had been abandoned for over 15 years.

Seems a good moment for a spring cleaning, with Spring bursting out everywhere.

The work on the overgrown trees and hedge surrounding the church is beginning to pay off.

The hawthorns or “May Trees”–carefully planted with ten meters gaps long ago–are breathing easier than they have for years.

I’m waiting for the pretty white blossoms of the hawthorn to show. Not a pleasant fragrance, as I recall from childhood, but a beautiful sight–and sure sign that the seasons have changed.

Ne’er cast a clout ‘til May be out”–a trope oft-repeated in our household when I was growing up in the ‘fifties.

Never knew whether it meant–Don’t leave off warm winter clothes until June OR keep wrapped up until the May trees/hawthorns are blooming.

Jean-Luc and Gregor are an impressive team.

Spot Jean-Luc and Gregor high up on the scaffolding!

They carry an air of competence and savoir-faire–they what they’re doing.

It’s reassuring.

Today they are removing the bulbous excretions of plastic filling that oozed from the large cracks inside and outside the walls of the eastern side chapel as they were treated.

I’m reminded of the cake fillings my mother used to bind her sponge layers.

She’d spread the gorgeous coffee-flavored cream on the bottom sponge–thick–and press down the second layer on top.

Then run the spreading knife ’round the circumference–collecting a good dollop of the crunchy, sugary mix for a patient “sous chef” beside her to relish.

The plastic is not so tempting.

Left to dry out thoroughly it’s judged ready to be prettied up.

The chapel in question was in a perilous state and looked as though it could collapse in a trice.

Here it is in the BEFORE state:

The confessional stall on the right was set into the wall–surely a factor in the weakening it.

The men gingerly removed it.

The ground was settling there–making sense as the leaning wall–but why is still unclear.

Jean-Luc went to work–tying in the three walls and filling in the gaps.


The sandstone used in the 1860s to construct the church was hacked from the cliffs nearby–an inexpensive option.

The church is built on rock (appropriate!)–but with scant foundations.

A miracule it has stayed standing!

Saint Martin himself may have had a hand in it–legend has him as a worker of miracles.

Here is one of the best-preserved murals in the church. St. Martin is tied to a post in winter, giving his executioners pause by summoning Spring!

Another mural depicts him standing in the path of a tree being felled–and legend has it that the tree miraculously missed him.

Keeping his church from toppling seems small beer in comparison.

The remedial work involved removing the heavy plaster vaulted ceiling in the transept where it was pulling away from its wooden roof. Had it fallen it might have brought “all the king’s men” down with it.

A shame to lose the stunning blue ceiling in the side chapel, but an unavoidable step.

The roof is the next step–and for that we wait for more reliable weather.

Meanwhile our head cat, Beau, is supervising the works: