Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Pickled Runner Beans

Posted by Rosie

Anyone who grows more than one or two runner bean plants will, more than likely, find themselves over-run with excess beans at some point.  Whilst they can be frozen, they are never as nice this way so for a different way to store them for later, why not pickle them?

(See below about successful cooking of frozen of runner beans.)

Pickled Runner Beans



  • 1kg runner beans
  • Salt
  • 300ml cider or white wine vinegar
  • 300g sugar
  • 100ml water
  • 1 tsp ground allspice
  • 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper 
  • 6 juniper berries (optional)


1.  Trim and string the beans then slice into thin lengths.
2.  Place them in a pan of lightly salted boiling water and cook until just tender (5-8 mins).
3.  Meanwhile mix together the vinegar, water, sugar, allspice, pepper and juniper berries and heat gently to dissolve the sugar.
4.  Bring to the boil and simmer for 2 minutes.
5.  Drain the cooked runner beans, add them to the boiling vinegar mix and simmer for a further 4-5 minutes
6.  Strain off and retain the vinegar.
7.  Pack the beans in warm sterilised jars, cover with the hot vinegar and cap with vinegar proof lids.
8. Store in a cool, dark place and use with 12 months.  The flavour is best if the pickled runner beans are allowed to mature for several weeks before eating.

Freezing Runner Beans

If you do want to get the best taste from frozen runner beans I can recommend 2 methods which will help them taste more like freshly cooked beans.

1.  Steam from frozen rather than boil them
2.  Double boil them.  Place the frozen beans in a pan and cover with boiling water then immediately drain them.  Add more boiling water cook to your preferred tenderness.

The French are only just catching on to the idea of eating runner beans.  You can find the seeds here but you invariably have to look in the flower section under Haricot d'Espagne.  Beware though, you'll pay a fortune and only get about 5 seeds.  Better if possible to import from the UK or save your own seeds.

For more food ideas why not have a look at some of these linkies: TastyTuesdays, Recipe of the Week and #NoWasteFoodChallenge

Recipe of the weekTasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com

Monday, 15 September 2014

Poor Poppy

Posted by Rosie

Poppy, Feb 2104

Way back in February I posted this picture of Poppy looking really miserable in a "lampshade".  She had just come back from the vet as something has caused her to start licking a patch inside one of her back legs to the point of it forming a granulated and sore lump.  The vet said we needed to stop her licking there and hopefully the lump would go.  Well over the coming weeks she wore the "lampshade" but as soon as we removed it she would start licking again.  We even tried a muzzle as we thought this might be less of a hassle for her but she really hated that, where-as she kind of accepted the "lampshade".

We then learnt from the Internet that dogs such as Labs can be susceptible to this incessant licking resulting in lumps - a form of canine OCD that has various causes including stress. Ben pointed doubt that maybe the "lampshade" and the muzzle were actually stressing her. We took a risk and totally removed both and she appeared to stop licking.  Yeah - maybe we had won?

Or maybe not.

A few weeks ago I noticed another far larger lump on her belly and she also appeared to have been licking the original lump again, making it sore again.  This time the vet reckoned that the original lump was infected internally and the pus from it was draining into what she called a ganglion in her belly.  She suggested a course of anti-inflammatories and ant-biotics.  Hey ho, by the end of the course BOTH lumps had gone.  Maybe this time we had won?

Or maybe not.

A week or so on and the lumps returned.  The vet was rather flummoxed and decided that the best course of action would be to remove them both and have them analysed to ensure they were not cancerous.  Poor Poppy went in last Monday and came home later, free from lumps but sporting 2 very impressive scars and that "lampshade" again..

We are now waiting to see the results of the analysis.  In the meantime Poppy is doing fine although sulking as she is only allowed walks on a lead. There are however two advantages of all this.  Wearing the "lampshade" makes it much harder for her to steal food and being stuck on a lead means she cannot steal fallen hazelnuts whilst we are out which means we are spared the horrible sound of her crunching through the shells to get to the kernel.   To be honest though, I'll put up with stealing and crunching if we can finally get this issue sorted once and for all.


Saturday, 13 September 2014

Bird watching in Normandy

Posted by Rosie

Normandy is a great location if you fancy doing a bit of birdwatching.  You are guaranteed to see plenty of birds when you head out with your binoculars ... or even if you head out without them.  (See below for the rarities we have seen!)  We see lots of birds on a daily basis from sparrows, finches and tits to jays, kestrels and buzzards. At night you will more than likely hear owls and should you get up with the rising sun in May and June the dawn chorus is fabulous.  This year our breeding swallows were also back.  No swallows returned to us 2 years ago and last year some came back but none bred.  This year they were back breeding and you had to remember to duck when you went into some of the buildings in case Mum or Dad swooped into you!

Baby swallows at Eco-Gites of Lenault

So why is Normandy so good for birds?  It is all down to varied habitats, non-intensive farming, low population and it's location on mainland Europe

Habitats in Normandy:

A wide variety of natural habitats will give rise to a large and varied bird population.  In Normandy all these habitats are present:

  • Coast - dunes, sandy beaches, mud flats
  • Farmland with plenty of old farm buildings and derelict houses and a variety of crops
  • Grasslands
  • Woodland
  • Hedgerows
  • Rivers
  • Cliffs
  • Some urban areas

In much of the countryside the farming is not intensive.  There is not a large input of agricultural chemicals resulting in a healthy wild flower and insect numbers which helps bird populations to flourish.  Also because Normandy is on mainland Europe there are some birds here that are only even rarer migrants across The Channel in Great Britain.  Over our time here we have been lucky enough to see 4 really quite rare birds:

Rare Bird Sightings at Eco-Gites of Lenault in Normandy

Hen Harrier

We were driving back up our front drive one evening and this almost ghostly bird swept over the field behind the house.  Luckily it stayed long enough for us to get a good view of it and identify it as a Hen Harrier.  They are resident all year round in Normandy but number have declined due to localised persecution and nest destruction.

Black Stork

We have seen this almost totally black heron like bird in the valley below the house on several occasions.  Although the map on this page indicates they are only summer residents and only in a few parts of France, a friend who is an avid birdwatcher confirmed that they have both moved further north into Normandy and have also been breeding here.  Good news indeed as they are numbered at no more that 500-600 pairs.

Black Woodpecker

Another almost black bird except for the red flash on it's head, Black Woodpeckers in Normandy are at the very limit of their distribution.  The one I saw was flying across the field by our front drive.  Annoyingly I was on my way to take the boys to the bus stop so could not stop and I have never seen one since.  Simon and others have however seen them so they are around if elusive to catch site of.  I hear a lot of woodpeckers tapping in the trees and always wonder if it is a black one I can hear.


Hoopoe (image from avibirds.com)
Hoopoes are the sort of bird that once you see one you cannot be in any doubt of what it was you saw.  With their distinctive orange, black and white colouring and impressive crest they really cannot be mistaken for anything else. So once again when I was on the school run and one flew across in front of the car I knew instantly what I had just seen.  Like the black woodpecker I have never seen one again although a few weeks ago Simon spotted one down in the valley. They are only summer visitor here so I doubt I will get the chance to see one again until next year now.

Are you a keen birdwatcher and have you seen any unexpected rarities?

Friday, 12 September 2014

Word of the Week - Expensive

Posted by Rosie

The Reading Residence



adjective - costing a lot of money

This has been an expensive week and with each passing day we have got to hear the ching ching of the proverbial cash till and there is still more to spend out on.

  • We have had an intermittent electric fault so needed to call out the electrician ... although in fairness this was cheaper than having to buy a new washing machine which was what we thought was at fault - ching ching!
  • Poppy, our lovely Black Labrador, had to have an operation to have 2 lumps removed and the lumps analysed - ching ching!
  • The lid fell off the medicine Henry the cat has to have and we lost a good chunk of the 28€ liquid that was inside it - ching ching!
  • We have had to pay for the boys' after school activities - athletics, music theory, saxophone and rugby - ching ching!
  • There have been more school supplies to buy - ching ching!
  • Ben needs new rugby boots and Tom needs new running shoes - ching ching!
  • Both our gas bottle and the one in the gite ran out - ching ching!
  •  The mower is playing up and will need to go to the mower repairman - ching ching!

Yes - this week has been expensive!
-ching ching!

Thursday, 11 September 2014

I cannot grow cucumbers!

Posted by Rosie

A bitter cucumber?

Now I know what you are thinking - but that is a picture of cucumber.  Yes.  You are right, it is. And it is a cucumber on our polytunnel at Eco-Gites of Lenault.  Maybe I therefore need to expand the title a bit to "I cannot grow non-bitter cucumbers!"  Every year I try and every year one of two things happens (and sometimes both).

Thing 1 :- I plant cucumber seedlings, they grow, they produce fruit and the fruit tastes bitter.
Thing 2 :- I plant cucumber seedlings and they shrivel up and die.

However I can grow ROUND cucumbers know as either Crystal Apple or Crystal Lemon.  I can even grow these from seed!  In fact I can grow these so well that we soon become inundated with them!  No worries.  If we can't eat them all the pigs love them.

Plentiful round cucumbers

These are today's haul and we  have been picking them for weeks. This crop are in fact a little over-ripe being a touch too large and yellow. Ideally they should be the very pale green colour you can see on some of them and a bit smaller, around the size of a tennis ball.  They will still be fine to eat if you don't mind have quite a few pips in them but I suspect these will make for a porcine breakfast tomorrow.

Luckily we all like cucumbers and this summer I came up with the simplest of cucumber salad recipes:

Cucumber, Apple and Sultana Salad


Approx 2 round cucumbers, peeled and cut into cubes (or the equivalent of green cucumbers)
1 apple, cored and cut into cubes
A handful of sultanas
Salad cream


Mix together the first 3 ingredients.
Add salad cream to coat.

Now I know mayonnaise took over from the great British tradition that was salad cream and that sales were so low a few years back that Heinz almost stopped making it.  I know many families no longer keep a bottle in the fridge but I really do recommend salad cream for this recipe over mayonnaise. It just works!

Whilst cucumber harvests are rather dependent on their shape, a couple of other harvests are looking very good.

I have actually managed to get some of my peppers to turn red this year and the orange peppers came off a plant I picked up reduced in price very late in the season. We are yet to taste them so are hoping they taste as good as they look. 

Traffic light peppers

After a disastrous apple harvest there is one tree fruit that is looking fabulous - the ancient pear tree that grows up the side of our house is literally dripping with huge fruits. I will need to pick these very soon and possibly before they are fully ripe as I am worried that if we get any windy weather their swinging weight will break the branches and/or they'll crash into the window and bruise themselves!  They are not the best pears for eating raw but bottled in syrup or pan fried with butter and brown sugar they are meltingly sweet and delicious.

Pears galore

I now have to decide whether to try cucumbers for just one more year ... because that could be the year I succeed ... or should I simply stick to the round ones and grow something else to replace the long ones?  What do you think I should do?  And do you have you got a vegetable you simply cannot grow?  Cucumbers perhaps!

I am linking up with Annie's weekly gardening blog linky over at Manneskjur.  Do pop over for some more gardening blogs and what, I am sure, will be some fabulous garden pictures from Annie herself.


Wednesday, 10 September 2014


Posted by Rosie

Back through last Winter, on into the Spring and through the early part of the Summer we had a huge egg mountain.  Our hens were laying like crazy and we were eating eggs in every conceivable form.  I was even freezing them.  Then, just when we need more to sell to gite guests, the hens went off lay.  July saw numbers of daily eggs dropping and through August we limped along with just one or two eggs a day.  Then NOTHING.  Not one egg had been laid for a week at Eco-Gites of Lenault.  It has been a long time since we have had to buy eggs and things were beginning to look serious.  However 2 days ago I heard the familiar shouting of a hen who has just laid an egg, a sort of triumphant call .... or is it relief?  Who knows?  

Yay - an egg.  Just one, but it was an egg!

Yesterday I went into the hen house, hopeful for maybe one more egg and guess what?  There were FOUR!!  Thank you girls.  Looks like we are on the road to egg laying again and no doubt soon we will be inundated again.



Why Hens Can Go Off Lay

Declining Day Length

Hens are sensitive to day length as as the days shorten after mid summer this can put them off lay.  Owners of large scale commercial flocks overcome this by giving them artificial lighting so they have the same day length all year. We could do something like this to but in my view, the hens need a rest after months of regular laying.


In the later part of Summer hens mould and they need all their energy to grow new feathers.  The hen house has been full of feathers recently but now they are nearing the end of their moult they can divert their energy back into egg laying.

Nearing the end of the moult

Parasites and Diseases

A sick hen or one infested with parasites will go off lay.  We have had some red mite in the hen house and although I have now pretty much killed all of these minute pests, it will no doubt have adversely affected the hens.


A hen who goes broody will lay eggs regularly and then stop suddenly, wanting to incubate and hatch the eggs.  However that has not been a problem this year as I have only had one hen who went broody and that was weeks ago!


Egg production declines as the hens get older.  A few of my birds are of a "mature" age including Fluffy Chick who must be 5 years old.  I am sure her egg laying days are over.

Fluffy Chick

Now the hens are starting to lay again I will boost their diet a bit.  They normally have wheat and whatever they can forage for in their large grassy pen but for a few weeks from now on I will also give them some layers pellets.  Plus, now that I have rid the hen house of red mite I could off course also get in some new young birds at what is called "point of lay" to further boost egg numbers ... hmmmm, it's market day tomorrow ..... !!

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Blackberry and Apple Cake

Posted by Rosie

The Season of Mist and Mellow Fruitfulness (To Autumn by Keats) gives us bountiful harvests and whilst we preserve some for use later in the year some does get eaten straight away.  Our apple harvest, as you may have read a couple of weeks ago, was dire and even those apples we did harvest are not storing.  In comparison the blackberry harvest is fantastic this year.  Time therefore, to adapt as apple cake recipe to make use of what we have.  Time for blackberry and apple cake:

Blackberry and Apple Cake


  • 75g/3oz butter
  • 150g/6oz sugar
  • 225/8oz self-raising flour
  • 350g/12oz cooking or eating apples - peeled, cored and cut into small cubes
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2 tbsp milk
  • 125g/5oz blackberries
  • 1tbsp extra sugar for dusting


1.  Grease and line a cake tin (22cm x 18cm - 9" x 7")
2.  Cream together the butter and sugar and beat until light and fluffy
3.  Mix 1tbsp of flour with the apple cubes (this will help them not to sink in the cake)
4.  Mix together the beaten eggs and milk and add to the creamed mixture (a little of the flour added at the same time will help prevent the mixture curdling)
5. Add the remaining flour and apples cubes and carefully mix together
6. Spread the mixture into the lined cake tin
7.  Dot the blackberries evenly on the surface and gently press into the mixture
8.  Sprinkle with the remaining sugar 
9.  Bake at Gas Mark 4, 180ºC, 350ºF for 40 mins until golden brown

This cake is lovely served cold for a teatime treat or hot as a dessert with a good dollop of cream!

For more food ideas why not have a look at some of these linkies: TastyTuesdays, Recipe of the Week and #NoWasteFoodChallenge

Recipe of the week
  Tasty Tuesdays on HonestMum.com

Monday, 8 September 2014

Grande Fête Foraine de la Saint-Gilles

Posted by Rosie

Every day in France has at least one Saint dedicated to it.  September 1st is the day dedicated to Saint-Gilles and the first weekend after is always the date for a large fairground (Fête Foraine) and boot fair (Vide Grenier = Empty Loft) in the centre of Condé-sur-Noireau.  It is always something the boys look forward to and something I hope they will forget about ... I am not a lover of fairgrounds although I do like a good boot fair.  Sadly they did not forget about it and despite offering them a trip to the beach they insisted we went to Condé instead.

Fairground rides

Fairground games

Reglisse (liquorice) in some wonderful colours

Sausage in a baguette anyone?  So French.

The Boot Fair

So did the boys think they had made the right decision of fair over beach?

Yes and no - we gave them 10€ each to spend or save as they wanted.  Ben chose not to go on any rides and saved all his money.  Tom went on one ride and saved the rest.  Overall they were at the age where they had outgrown many of the younger rides and there was not a huge selection of older ones.  They both saw that spending their money of fairground games was probably a waste in view of the poor quality prizes they may have won but the did like the atmosphere and of course came away richer than when they went.  Was this better than the beach?  I am not sure they actually thought so!  It'll be interesting to see if they want to go next year.

As for me - I did get a plant at the boot fair and I loved this tea stall:

Tea anyone?

I also think I might have preferred the Foire as it was around 1900 - an farm animal fair!  Not many ladies to be seen in this photo though, but I love the farmers in their Sunday-best smocks.

Foire de Saint Gilles, Condé-sur-Noireau c 1900

Are you a thrill seeker who likes fairground rides?   And what about a Boot Fair?  Do you love them or hate them?