It must be the heat

Our dear friends Conchita and Mariano gave me a ton of courgettes this morning, so I spent the afternoon making ratatouille. While standing there stirring and sweating I couldn’t help but reflect on the irony of summer produce.

Right now the temperature is about 34 C outside (93 F), precisely the type of temperature where you do NOT want to be standing over a hot stove. And yet, this is when all the wonderful produce appears in our gardens and markets. Since we can’t eat it all fresh, the obvious thing is to find a way to preserve it and that usually means heat.

It’s completely crazy, of course. We would really all much rather be doing anything other than cooking in this weather, but if we don’t cook it then it is wasted and we won’t have it available for use during the winter.

We’re lucky, of course, because we have the assistance of our wonderful modern appliances. If you live in a modern house in America you probably have your air conditioning on, but here in our far from modern house the thick stone walls, the double-glazed windows and extra insulation in the attic and the special heat reflecting curtain on the front door keep the house extremely comfortable But think about our ancestors; they were doing all  their preserving on wood burning stoves with no real insulation to speak of. Certainly nothing like a/c existed. But they managed and fed their families through the lean times on all that they were able to store over these hot summer months.

I’ll try to reflect on that next time I’m standing in the kitchen wishing I was anywhere else; we’re lucky in today’s world and should think about that more often.

Ciao for now.

Randy

The Incident

There’s a lady in our village who has this very sweet pet rabbit. Her daughter gave it to her after her husband died and it is probably the world’s most spoiled rabbit. It sits on the table during meals and she feeds it cookies, which it prefers to carrots. She also takes it for “walks,” which means the lady walks and carries the rabbit, because it refuses to walk around outside.

Last night we were walking Shmoo when we crossed paths with the lady, a friend of hers and the rabbit. Shmoo immediately sat and did not jump up, but he was watching the rabbit. We gently explained to the lady that she should NOT bring the rabbit too close to Shmoo because he really, really liked to chase small furry creatures. She listened, then bent over him WITH the rabbit so he could give him a kiss!!!!

The jaws of death immediately snapped and my first thought was, “Holy Crap! He’s bitten its head off!!!!” Luckily, he only got a little bit of fur, but I’m pretty sure the rabbit is traumatized for life!

This is what comes from watching too many Disney movies and forgetting that real animals are either prey or predator! Thank Dog Shmoo didn’t kill it, because even though it wouldn’t have been his (or our) fault, I still would have felt terrible about it.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Don’t Mess with Me!

We’ve had a friend staying for the last few days (Possum World reader Mnemosyne!)

I woke up this morning with the most horrible cramps but we had decided to go to the coast, so we just plowed on. It was raining, which I suppose made it less hot, so maybe that was a good thing. We had the same problem in Collioure that we had when we tried to visit with our friend Cheryl; not a single place to park in the whole town, so we drove on to Port Vendres. I don’t think we’re meant to visit Colliure, at least not during the summer.

In Port Vendres we specifically tracked down the same restaurant where we had eaten last time, but this time we had one of the WORST restaurant experiences ever. JM and Mnemosyne ordered steak/frites and I ordered an omelette. Their steaks came and I sat there and sat there and sat there. After 20 minutes I told the waiter to cancel my order, but almost 15 minutes later he brought it anyway! JM and Mnemosyne had finished eating by then so I told him I no longer wanted it. There was some excuse about having had a problem with a burner on the stove, but honestly if there was a problem why didn’t he just tell me 30 minutes earlier?  Anyway, there was a woman there (probably the owner) and she was really pissed at me!  But so what? I was the injured party!

It took them another 15 minutes to bring JM a single crepe and 20 minutes to bring Mnemosyne a fruit salad! I had asked for coffee at the same time that they ordered their desserts and it never came, then the waiter came and asked if we WANTED coffee! I said no just the bill and we got the hell out of Dodge.

This is NOT the way you treat a woman who has just gotten her period; at least not if you want to live!

Of course, Shmoo would not poop anywhere we stopped because it wasn’t “his” place! By the time we got back he was desperate to go. Someone had blocked the parking in front of our house, so I let JM and Mnemosyne off then drove up to the railroad tracks to take him for a quick potty break. As soon as we got on the path he went into the bushes and did what he needed to do. Then, instead of trying to keep walking, he turned around and dragged me back to the car to come home! He’s such a silly dog.

I guess this goes to prove that you shouldn’t try to repeat experiences, because nothing is ever the same twice.

Ciao for now,

Randy

If you don’t have a dog

You will probably find this an incredibly boring post. But if you do have a dog, hang around.

Ever since the first man brought the first dog into the family cave, women have been trying to find an effective way of dealing with all that dog hair. Sure, if you’re into it, you can spin it into yarn and knit doghair sweaters. But how many of us are THAT creative about it? Instead we try to clean it up.

Sure, there’s the old standby of a broom and dust pan (if you don’t have carpet), but generally the hair just flies up into the air, waiting until your back is turned to land back where it first started.

Thus, on every dog forum in the world there is THE discussion: which vacuum cleaner is really effective on pet hair?

Frankly, I have no idea how many vacuums I’ve bought and burned out over the years. Dog hair is, in general, far more sturdy than vacuum cleaners. I know that there are some brands that swear they don’t clog or break down, but we all know that eventually, dog hair gets them all.

I’ve had inexpensive vacuum cleaners and expensive vacuum cleaners; uprights and canisters; with bags and without. All have eventually died from doghair poisoning. Last year in a fit of what I can only call insanity, I bought one of those little bagless sweeper vacs. What on earth was I thinking? It was a cordless as well, and no way could it ever clean our entire house on one charge. As to the dog hair, it was never a contest; the poor thing just couldn’t cope.

I decided that I had to do something. The dog hair was starting to take over and pretending it wasn’t there was no longer working. I researched for several weeks and went back and forth: bagless or bag? Finally, I borrowed a neighbor’s Dyson and realized that bagless just wasn’t for me. No matter how much the ads say they are easy to empty, you still wind up with dust and doghair in your face when you dump the canister.

I finally settled on a Nilfisk Extreme 300.I ordered it online and hoped for the best. It got here this morning and I decided to test it out.

I have to say that this baby has POWER! It has 5 speeds and for the first time ever I was able to get the doghair out of the awful red carpet in JM’s office. The only time it has been that clean was when we hired a professional cleaner to come in and he used a professional assault vacuum on it. What is amazing is that it cleaned up the hair easily and is the quietest vacuum I’ve ever used, so you don’t feel as if you’re going deaf while cleaning.

This particular model has a HEPA 14 filter, which is the highest rated HEPA filter and it also has some kind of special bags that are made of cotton and not paper. The combination does not allow any dust to blow back into the air, and when I finished vacuuming the house didn’t have that musty vacuum cleaner smell that you sometimes get.

Of course the one thing it hasn’t done is stand the test of time. Will this be a vacuum that lasts me for longer than a year? No idea, but for now, I love it.

Ciao for now.

Randy

I Can’t Help it; I hate them.

The damned motorbikes that is! I know it’s a right of passage here in France, and JM tells me that it wasn’t all that different when he was a teen; but my GOD they are awful!!

First of all, they are little tiny things that sound like a lawnmower to begin with and are probably even less powerful than one to boot; but to make things worse, most of the kids screw around with the muffler (or whatever equivalent they have) so that they can get a tiny bit more power. This means that they are even louder and MORE annoying than they are straight out of the factory.

On a spring or summer day, when you are trying to sit with your windows open and work while enjoying the fresh air, the sound is sometimes so deafening that you are forced to close the windows. Some of the kids ride round and round the village, gunning the motor and speeding as fast as they can. You not only have the ear-splitting noise, but it is terrifying because they pay absolutly no attention to who might be in the road in front of them. I consider it a miracle that a kid, dog or elderly person has not been killed by one of these idiots.

Sometimes we see the Gendarmes doing a “stake-out” to catch people driving without their seatbelts. I do not understand why they don’t crack down on these kids instead. I hate to sound like a grumpy old curmudgeon, but if they got fined a few hundred euros that their parents would have to pay, maybe there would be some changes made.

I really DO understand that life in a rural village is probably exceedingly boring for a teenager. They can’t get their driving licenses until they are 18, so these lawnmowers are their only form of transportation if their parents or an older kid can’t take them somewhere. But to be honest, I say, “TOUGH!” You can’t always get what you want and being bored doesn’t give you the right to make everyone around you miserable.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Hot, hot, hot!

After last summer-that-almost-wasn’t, no one around the Possum Kingdom has cause for complaint this year. It has been trés chaud! Pretty much by 9:30, JM and I have been closing the shutters and windows and leaving them that way until 9:30 at night or so.

I think that this may be the first time since we’ve lived here where I haven’t heard one person complaining about the weather! That is major news, because usually, no matter what, there is always someone complaining.

We’ve also been lucky, because we seem to get at least one day a week with some rain, so it keeps things from getting too overwhelming. However, I do have to remind myself that this is only mid-June and we could be having some major heatwaves in our future.

I am mostly worried about my mother, because I can’t quite get her to understand the principle of opening the windows and doors in the morning and evening and closing them during the hot part of the day. She seems to insist on opening the windows when it’s hot “to get some air.” I have explained it time and time again, but I think a lifetime of habit is hard to change. She doesn’t quite understand the self-air conditioning that these old stone houses have. I’ll have to keep an eye on her, because elderly people don’t process the heat (or the cold) as well as younger ones, and that is why there were so many deaths during the heatwave of 2003 (or was it 2004, I get confused).

Still, this is very nice for the tourists; no one should be able to complain that they didn’t have any sun during their vacation this year.

Keep cool.
Ciao for now.
Randy

Slaughter on the D118

I decided to go to Carcassonne yesterday to shop for a new coffeemaker. Normally, this takes about 40 minutes during non-rush hours. Imagine my surprise when I was caught up in a terrible traffic jam just on the other side of Cepie.

Traffic was backed up for well over a kilometer, as there were signals set up for alternating traffic. When I got close enough to see what was going on I was horrified to see that this was all due to the wanton destruction of the beautiful Plane trees that line so many of our regional roads.

This all started a year or so ago when some study apparently showed that stupid drivers who went too fast or who drove drunk were more likely to die if they crashed into a tree than if they didn’t crash into a tree. God forbid we should look at the drivers, instead we must penalize the evil trees.

There are many in the region who have fought ferociously to stop this senseless slaughter, but to no avail. I knew that the trees between Carcassonne and Castlenaudary had gone, but I had hoped the the trees on our side of Carcassonne would remain. Huge disappointement on my part.

Now, Jean-Paul, who runs the fruit and vegetable shop in the village, told me that he thinks they’re being cut down because that section of the road is going to be widened. I say, “so what!” Surely the region, or the department or whoever could have purchased a portion of a field on one or the other sides of the existing road and run the new, wider road there without destroying our majestic trees!

It put me into a particularly foul mood, I have to admit. I can’t bear to see trees being cut down for any reason and certainly not for stupid reasons.

My day was not improved by my coffeemaker buying experience. I found what I want, brought it home plugged it in and tested it, only to discover that it was missing a part! I tried to get just that part sent to me by mail; but no. Impossible. The only solution was to go back to Carcassonne and exchange the machine! That meant, of course, another view of the destruction on the D118.

Some days it’s better not to get out of bed.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Water

What a boring subject, huh?

I’ve known since we moved to the Possum Kingdom that our water here is harder than what we had in L.A.. To be honest, I was shocked, because our water there was super hard. But here, the dog’s stainless steel bowls were covered in lime scale after having water in them for just a few days. Our tea kettle had to be boiled with vinegar or lemon juice almost every week and I don’t even want to think about the state of our pipes.

Our wonderful plumber, Christian Drouin, put in an cartridge that doesn’t actually soften the water (softened water isn’t good to drink) but which has resin in it that keeps the scale hardening in the same way (I must admit that I don’t have the explanation of how it works all that clearly in my head). That does help to a certain extent.

But, since last summer I’ve noticed another problem with the water. It often smells and tastes very, very strongly of chlorine. My guess is that the water purifying plant has made some changes. Certainly it’s something that is worse after a lot of rain, so I imagine they increase the chlorine content after storms. Besides the smell, my skin always felt itchy and “tight” after taking a shower and even using creams and lotions didn’t seem to really help.

Far worse, I noticed a phenomenon with Shmoo that I had forgotten about. I had first noticed it with the late, great, Taffy-Jerome when we originally fed him in plastic dishes, then later after we moved from Rancho Palos Verdes to Reseda: his black nose started to lose it’s color, then his lips turned pink instead of black. Now, Shmoo’s nose was going from black to beige. The Taffy experience had been so long ago that I didn’t remember it at first, but this past spring it came back to mind. Clearly, Shmoo was reacting to the chlorine in the water.

I know it sounds odd, but it is a known phenomenon, although it usually is associated with the use of plastc dishes. My first line of defense was to buy a Brita filter to put on the kitchen tap and to only give Shmoo water that came out of that tap. Within 2 weeks the color had started to return to his nose.

I decided to talk to Christian and see if we couldn’t put something on the whole house to improve the water for all the sinks and showers. For less than 100 euros we were able to add an extra filter cartridge to the system that we already had that would run ALL the household water through an activated charcoal filter. We noticed the effects immediately.

First, people have started to comment on how good my coffee and tea are! I suppose it makes sense, any food that relies on mostly water to exist is going to be profoundly affected by the quality of that water. I certainly have noticed over the years that when I make bread it has a different taste depending on the water and flour that I use.

Second, my skin no longer feels uncomfortable after showering and my hair is softer, silkier and shinier, and it stays cleaner for a longer time. I don’t have to use any conditioning products on it either.

Third, the tea kettle doesn’t have to be descaled. I’m assuming that my coffee maker will last longer as well, not to mention the hot water heater and all the rest of the pipes in the house.

But, best of all, Shmoo’s nose has almost regained all it’s color. It’s not totally black yet, but I’m hoping it will be by the end of summer.

Water; we need to pay more attention to it.

Ciao for now.

Randy

Introducing: Deep-Fried Possum

I’ve noticed that people really like it when I post about food, and I haven’t done that for a while. So, as with the new Chateau-Shmoo category here, I’m going to start this new one called Deep-Fried Possum which will be about food, cooking and enjoying the two.

Recently, I’ve found a truly wonderful and revolutionary cookbook. It’s called RATIO: The Simple Codes Behind the Craft of Everyday Cooking. The author is Michael Ruhlman. I have rarely felt myself as inspired as I am by this book. It is NOT a recipe book, per se, but it is a book that explains the ratios of ingredients that make up the basics of recipes. By knowing these, we can easily create our own recipes for just about every category of cooking without needing a library of cookbooks.

I don’t know when I’ve read a cookbook cover to cover this way, as if it was a novel and not a cookbook at all. Perhaps it speaks to the geek in me who strives to understand why things are the way they are; but for whatever reason it has become my new food bible. Each section makes me want to get into the kitchen and just start creating.

If you’re of a “need to know” mindset, you really need to check this book out. It will open your eyes.

Introducing Chateau-Shmoo

My new fancy idea of adding separate pages to this blog so that Possum Kingdom posts could be in a different place from Dog posts and Food posts does not seem to be working as I had hoped. Sometimes, leaving well enough alone is the ideal solution. So, instead I’m going to try simply tagging posts on different subjects and seeing if that works a little better. I am introducing Chateau-Shmoo as the category for all things dog.

For a test run, here’s a nice picture of Shmoo at Lac Montbel during Cheryl’s recent visit.

Action Shmoo

Action Shmoo