Winter Is Coming, Or Is It?
It’s the end of September, or perhaps it’s December? And somehow I seem to remember it was August yesterday? Winter is coming, or perhaps it isn’t after all?
This year has become a blur, fluid somehow, as days stretch into the next without real distinction. It’s been the strangest of years not only because of 2020 (no explanation needed), but because the weather seems to just as confused as we are.
Two weeks ago we were sweltering under a freak recurrence of summer heat, the garden aching for moisture and cool. Then a few days back it started to rain, blissfully, the first drops in months. It continued unabated for days, dark mornings morphing into grey days fading back into a humid black. It felt somewhat depressing, but it was also somehow a big relief.
The ground sighed, and we breathed again.
Then today we woke up to sunshine, 6°C (~43°F) and snow-covered mountains. The air was crisp, the wind sharp and cutting, the sky a pale blue. So T-shirts were swapped with sweaters and hats, the heating tuned on (our new boiler works wonderfully, by the way), and Polly bounced enthusiastically outside. She loves this kind of weather and wakes us up with slobbery face kisses at the crack of dawn, pestering us until we take her out for her morning walk.
I guess if I lived my life in a thick black fur coat, I’d be pretty darn excited for winter too!
But all this change, all these flip-flops back and forth have me wavering in time, losing grasp of the flow of things, questioning what is next. Perhaps all this is normal. In a year like 2020, with everything that has happened so far, and everything yet to come; the US elections, the worry of COVID-19 and winter flu (ugh, what a mix), the the vast uncertainty of where all this will end. It can all feel a bit much sometimes, as I’m sure it does for you too. And so the mind wanders, flows to places it does not usually go, as it tries to grasp onto something that is solid and known.
I guess that’s my week in a nut-shell. Moments of question and grey, interspersed with moments of clarity in which I hang onto the more mundane thing in life. This blog is about the latter…
We Bought Wine
My better days this week were spent around food, one of the many constants of joy in my life.
It’s wine-time in France, or rather it’s THE wine time in France. This probably won’t surprise anyone, given the abundance of grape fermentation that happens yearly in this country. After all we have over 27,000 wineries here that churn out around 50 and 60 million hectolitres per year, or around 7–8 billion bottles. That’s quite a load.
France is not the biggest producer in the world (Italy actually holds that honor), nor the oldest (wine originated in the area now known as Georgia, around 6,000BC), but it offers centuries of tradition and taste. And that means an abundance of delicious stuff.
What makes end of September extra special however, is that it all goes on sale in a rather crazy way. You see it’s the annual “Foire au Vins”, where bottles (and cases) of outstanding quality can be bought at hugely discounted prices.
This year, sadly, sales are even bigger due to heavy US tariffs (trade war stuff) and of course COVID-19. In fact wine exports have plummeted so badly that earlier this year the French government bought over 200 million liters of excess wine and distilled it to produce hand sanitizer. I’m not even kidding….
Imagine that? I may be disinfecting my hands with fine Bordeaux (honestly makes you want to cry)….
The upshot of all this is that the 2020 “Foire Au Vins” is better than ever. Every supermarket has been going nuts with offers and discounts. And the bigger supermarkets even have experts on-hand to help you with your choice. On top of all this “Les French Days” are running now too (= the French equivalent of Black Friday), which means there are discounts added to the discounts. It’s a vertiable shopping bonanza.
We have a rather massive inventory of wine stock (quarantine prep, ya know), so we’re not buying as much as we usually do, but it’s still been fun to shop around. Gotta love this about France.
I Made Tiramisu
I’ve been on the hunt for the perfect Tiramusu recipe for a while.
My quest actually started over a year ago, for no particular reason other than the thrill of it all. You see, I love Tiramisu as a dessert. Who can resist that smooth, onctuous cream, interlayered with amaretto-soaked base (or Marsala wine, if you want to be more traditional)? It’s sweet yet light, intensely smooth, simple yet complex and deeply satisfying. The ideal dessert.
It can be quite easy to make if you simply use store-brought lady fingers and mascarpone, whipped into a cream, but IMO there’s a much, much tastier way. It involves more work, but ultimately it leads to a superbly superior result. And if you’re an aficionado like me (or perhaps just as crazy) I strongly urge you to give it a try.
Of course, I approached the Tiramisu challenge like any other Scientist would, trying out recipes, tweaking ingredients, and incrementally improving each product to get the perfect taste/texture/look combo. My breakthrough was Italian chef, Ernst Knam who Paul discovered and translated for me (he’s learning Italian this year, in addition to everything else he does). He not only showcased a recipe that is elegant and powerful, but the final result is…simply speaking…deliciously perfect. Oh, and it’s gluten-free too.
The key(s) to it all? A rich, delicate chocolate sponge, made from scratch; a super-smooth cream with a hint of vanilla, thickened just a smidgen with a bit of gelatin (just enough to hold it in shape); soaking the sponge with amoretto and espresso; layering it all into a beautiful sculpture; and letting it sit for a day for all the flavors to develop before eating.
I made it on Friday and we had it tonight. I just wish I could send ya a taste thro’ the blog….yummmmmmm!
P.S. If you follow the recipe from Earnst Knam , I recommend making TWICE the cream portion…
I Harvested Walnuts
I have to admit that one of the gifts I’ve received this year is learning A LOT about gardening.
My latest foray into this new and wondrous world, is harvesting walnuts, something I’ve never really tried before. We have two large walnut trees on our property, and so I read about it beforehand of course, and tracked chatter about it on my various Facebook gardening forums.
Turns out that walnut harvesting is not altogether straightforward. Some folks say you shouldn’t harvest until the nuts drop from the tree onto the ground. Others insist this is nonsense, and that you must harvest while they are still on the tree. For RV owners, this is a bit like asking “how often do I need to change my RV tires”. In other words, it’s actually quite a controversial subject.
The truth I’ve found, depends on your area and probably lies somewhere in-between.
In our case most of our nut cases are already black, shriveled masses by the time they drop from the tree. I feared they might be totally lost, the fruit somehow killed due to our long summer drought (?), but after cracking a few open & doing a few taste tests, they appear to be salvageable. So, I’ve been harvesting and getting well gritty in the process (walnuts husks stain quite horribly, as I’ve discovered), and now our nuts are happily drying & “curing” in the pantry. In a few weeks they should be good to eat.
Not a bad harvest all-in-all, but in the future I think I’ll gather them a wee bit earlier while the husks are still green and first start to split open on the tree. They should taste much better that way.
So that’s it my friends….a week gone, days blended together, heat, winter, wine and tiramisu all-in-one. Some days make sense, others don’t, but it’s the small things that ground us and I guess that’s all we can ask for this year. In those dark days, the days that blur together and perhaps take your mind somewhere you do not want to be, I hope you find your anchor too.
So tell my dear followers, are you are OK this week? Did you see winter? Something good? Or something darker? Share your thoughts. I’m here to listen.
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