16 October 2009

First frost

Frost on October 15, 2009. It seems early this year. A French friend said a few weeks ago, when the weather was still very warm, almost hot, that winter would arrive all of a sudden. He was right. It stayed chilly all day yesterday, and we had a fire in the wood-burner again yesterday afternoon and evening.

Our new bread lady — la nouvelle porteuse de pain — who took over the route a few months ago, had this to say about our cold snap yesterday when she came by: « Ça ne durera pas ! » — "It won't last!" I hope she's right.

Yesterday's sunrise —
I can't tell if it looks as cold as it actually was.

We had a busy morning yesterday. While the weather was still too cold to go outside and work in, I made Sauce Meurette, a red wine sauce that's served with poached eggs, for lunch. It was something I could prepare in advance and then reheat when it came time to eat at noon. Then I made an apple cake, because we have so many apples and we didn't have any kind dessert in the house.

While the cake was baking, I went out and pulled up the last 15 tomato plants. I ended up with another bucketful of green tomatoes, plus a few ripe or almost-ripe one. Tomorrow, for lunch, it'll be fried green tomatoes. I don't think I've ever made those before.

Frost on the leaves of a little oak tree...

Meanwhile, Walt went out and worked on the hedge some more. I know everybody must wonder why the hedge trimming is such a big deal. Well, for one thing, the hedge is at least 100 yards long. That's a lot of hedge. And it's wide, so you have to cut half the top surface from one side, and then the other half from the other side. And it's tall — 10 or even 12 feet in some places, and more than 7 feet high all around the yard.

Such a hedge is great for privacy, and it looks great — when it's trimmed. Letting it just grow is not an option. Sometimes, I admit, it seems like just ripping it out and replacing it with a wall or fence would be the best solution. But it would have to be a very high wall or privacy fence to serve the same purpose.

...and frost on the leaves of blackberry vines

Trimming the hedge, then, means climbing up on a high ladder, working around all the obstacles in the way — trees and bushes, the wood shed, the garden shed, the barbecue grill, and more. And then there's the ditch. For about half the length of the hedge, on the outside of the yard, there's a deep drainage ditch.

That means you have to bridge the ditch with boards (old window shutters in our case), set the ladder up on them, and then cut what you can reach. Then you have to move the ladder, move the heavy window shutters a little farther down the ditch, set the ladder back up on them, and climb back up and start again. It's tiring and time-consuming.

Walt up on the ladder, trimming the last remaining section of hedge

But guess what! It's done for another year! And all the clippings that need to be raked up have been raked up. It looks neat. This is one of our biggest garden challenges. Why don't we hire a professional to do it? Budget reasons, of course, in large part. We don't have a lot of money to throw around.

This is what it's like to have retired early and to be living through a time when the value of the U.S. dollar is so low against the euro. Besides, we don't work for a living otherwise. Doing jobs like this one, along with the cooking, home improvements, and gardening that we do, makes us feel productive and gives us a sense of accomplishment. If you just sit here day after day, you start to feel worthless — your self-esteem goes down. You get bored.

After Walt finished the hedge work and we ate lunch, he made another Tarte Tatin (an upside-down apple pie). We're taking it today as our contribution to lunch with friends, at their house down in Le Grand-Pressigny.

I've been thinking about how much longer we will continue to live this "lifestyle," and what the next phase of our lives will be like. This was our seventh summer in the country outside Saint-Aignan. All that is a subject for another day. Along with the recipes for the apple cake and the Meurette red-wine sauce.


  1. Well, it really does look marvelous out there in the yard :))) All of the hard work certainly pays off in a beautiful setting. Chapeau bas!


  2. Another benefit: all that garden work keeps your heart in good working order, and makes all that delicious food a just reward and not just a long-term health hazard!

  3. Seems early for first frost in the Loire. Here in Portland, Maine, we haven't had a frost yet (just missed 2 nights ago), although almost all of Maine has had several nights of frost.

  4. Job well done!
    MSN money wrote that the low dollar was an other indignity for the US. It will eventually go back up, like your temperatures. 80's at the beach today here, 100's in Palm Springs.

  5. Hi Judy,
    I haven't heard or seen that expression in ages. It is absolutely correct, but, nowadays, people are so lazy they just say "Chapeau!

    I you're happy with what Obama has done for the country so far, you could say, "Je lui tire mon chapeau!", which is exactly the same image as "chapeau bas."

  6. I woke up to a little snow this morning. It was 34F on the porch. The gardening partner says the pepper plants survived.

  7. There is a colander full of green tomatoes here. Never made fried green tomatoes so I look forward to hearing about your recipe. 56, rainy and overcast in Seattle right now.

  8. Don't hold your breath, word verification will do it for you: apnee.

    Couldn't let this pass. MDR — LOL

  9. The hedge look great and I think a green fence that gets trimmed once a year is easier to maintain than a hardscape fence.

    The food you prepare sounds amazing! I am enjoying your blog.


    PS My husband and i also retired early. Even living here in the US, we do as you and Walt -- everything we can do ourselves, we do. It's actually not that difficult to live on limited income when you don't need/care about material things anymore.

  10. Hello Cameron, I've enjoyed doing some reading in your blog and reading your postings on Slow Travel France. As a native North Carolinian who went to college in Durham, I can relate to your environment.

    Hi Bob, it is early for frost here, I think. Hope you enjoy your dinner tonight. It is tonight, I believe.

    Judy, we wanted a garden and we got one. In San Francisco our back garden was 800 sq. feet. This one is 20,000 sq. feet! That's 25 times bigger. Whew. But it's what we wanted and now we have to deal with it.

    Carolyn, snow! Too early.

  11. Hi Ken, Yes, we're having dinner with Bill D and his wife tonight, and in honor of his recent visit to the Loire, I'm bringing a bottle of Loire red -- Chinon from Couly-Doutheil.


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