Tuesday, March 31, 2009

tête de veau

Mini B arrived this evening looking for help to deliver a calf, insisting that he needed both of us, so I went along with my camera.

The call had obviously gone out that he needed a hand because as we arrived at the écurie, more people turned up and we all went to round up the pregnant cow which was happily munching in a field, unphased by the pair of hooves sticking out its rear end. The strategy appeared to be to converge on the animal while flapping your arms around as if you were trying to park a large aircraft and shouting "allez" ("go") which it duly did - right into the stream where it flopped down and refused to budge. Who needs an inflatable birthing pool?

Fast forward ten minutes and I'm taking pictures as the calf is pulled out when Mini-B shouts, "no photos!", like he's the Max Clifford of the animal kingdom. I don't know what that was about and I didn't want to ask.

Calf's head - tête de veau - is a popular dish in France, but not one I recommend you try at home, or anywhere else for that matter. Elizabeth David in French Provincial Cooking writes that if it's served really tender and hot with a well mixed vinaigrette sauce then it's quite good - then adds, "more often it is repellent". We once had lunch at a nearby hotel with some friends who ordered it and I had to sit with my head out the window until the plates were removed to avoid throwing up just from the smell.

building at 31 March 2009

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

the pitter-patter of concrete feet

What should wake me this morning but the unexpected arrival of two cement lorries. Unexpected - and suspicious - since the weight restrictions haven't been lifted yet.

Our property is on the border of two communes and can be approached by a single-track road from either. The "barrière de dégel" sign is still in place at our commune's end, but the one at the other end (which is less conspicuous and small enough to throw into a hedge - if you were to be so inclined) has disappeared. When I asked BB if he had anything to do with this he was uncharacteristically sheepish.

Once the concrete had been dumped, the lorries then had to leave by the same route, which meant reversing back up the narrow twisty road for half a mile, clinging like goats to the side of a mountain to avoid the precipitous drop into the (newly deforested) gorge 150 feet below.

The builders spent all morning tamping and float finishing the dalle (to get "a glass-like finish reflecting the stars at night", trilled BB) and as they left at lunchtime, I realised I'd forgotten to lock the catflap - just as I saw three cats padding around in the wet concrete.

Friday, March 13, 2009

barrière de dégel

After the faux pas with the millstone you'd have expected the builders to be on top of their game, but yesterday they put the void for the internal staircase in the wrong place. Why do we bother giving them plans?

The beam and block work for the first floor slab is in and ready to be filled with concrete. Because it's such a large area and has to be done quickly we need to get two cement lorries in, but last week a "barrière de dégel 12 tonne" sign went up on our road - for the first time ever. This is a weight restriction they put on some of the smaller tracks at the end of winter when the ground starts to thaw to prevent excessive damage to the roads.

So, we can't get the cement lorries in and will have to wait until the restriction is lifted - which could be weeks. In the meantime the builders will disappear again and nothing can advance.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

shoot the builders

We were awoken at 7.20 a.m. yesterday by the builders with their new petrol-driven cement mixer which sounds like a combine harvester cutting a field of metal straw. They are now putting in the concrete floors in the cellars.

The large millstone in the basement (weighing three tonnes and measuring over six and a half feet in diameter) was too heavy to lift out so we decided to make a feature of it by embedding it in the floor of the wine cellar - a place which will be visited not infrequently - where it could be admired. Apart from the back stone wall, the millstone is the only other original remaining feature of the mill and we were keen to incorporate it into the design of the new house somewhere. Monsieur Chatting And Having A Laugh and BB spent hours a few weeks ago moving the stone into position and getting it level in readiness for pouring the concrete around it. There is also a diagram of the stone in the cellar floor on the builders' plans so it was pretty obvious what it was to be used for.

So imagine our dismay yesterday evening when we went to inspect the work after the builders had left to discover that they'd concreted right over the top of it! It just leaves me speechless.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Belle et Sébastien

The builders made a guest appearance last week after their extended Christmas break in Acapulco - brief but long enough to break the remote for the crane (which they didn't fess up to and which BB only discovered when he went to use the crane today) and litter the place with empty cigarette packets. They have still to put in the main concrete slab but we've heard they're now on another job so who knows when they'll be back.

After years of searching I have finally got my hands on the DVD of Belle et Sébastien, the original TV series about a young boy and his dog set in the French Alps which was first shown on BBC in 1967. It was my favourite programme when I was a kid and it's like watching a documentary about life in our village - so little has changed.

Just as the last of the snow was beginning to melt, it snowed again today - which is good because we are going to Méribel tomorrow to stay with Miss Fit.