A tiny taste of Provence, right here in Northern California.

July 17, 2016

A walk through the garden this morning revealed a tiny pumpkin, alongside a bright orange blossom waiting to be pollinated by the bees. A little zucchini, which we will have to remember to pick tomorrow so it doesn’t become a baseball bat, chard ready to be harvested and a small forest of sunflowers that have taken over at the edge of the garden, much to my delight. The bees are busy buzzing in them and having a wonderful time.

My lavender and sunflowers give me a tiny taste of Provence, right here in Northern California.

Lavender, oh how lovely

Sunflower with a busy bee

A forest of sunflowers at the edge of the farden

Pumpkin flower waiting for the bees to visit

Pumpkin flower waiting for the bees to visit

Baby pumpkin next to flower

Baby pumpkin next to flower

Zucchini to be picked soon

Zucchini to be picked soon so that it doesn’t get out of control!

Chard ready to eat!

Chard ready to eat!

Sunflower with a busy bee

A forest of sunflowers at the edge of the farden

Lavender, oh how lovely

The Thornless Blackberry Patch-Yum…

The Thornless Blackberries
The Thornless Blackberries

Before I bought the apple farm in 1997, I used to visit the elderly couple, Willi and Maria, who lived here. They had bought the land in 1948, the year I was born, and planted all the trees.

They were younger then, in their mid- forties and worked hard to create an organic farm where they grew most of their food and sold it too. They grew apples, almonds, walnuts, grapes, pears, plums, berries and a huge vegetable garden with tomatoes, corn, squash and herbs.

When I visited, Willie would show me around with pride. I noticed that his favorite area seemed to be his thornless blackberries patch. If you’ve ever picked blackberries, you know how special it is to have thornless ones that don’t scratch you all up as you pick. When Willie died in 1997 at age ninety-four and Maria went into a home, the farm was in danger of being bought by a developer who had designs on the eight-acre parcel, which could have been subdivided.

That’s when I stepped in and said, “someone has to do something. Someone has to save this farm!” Well, as you can guess, that someone turned out to be me and here I am, seventeen years later. I had to learn organic farming from the ‘hands on’ method of trial and error, but learned right away that the farm was very forgiving.

I read a wonderful Wendell Berry essay once, about a young couple who were trying to buy a farm. They’d worked the land and loved it, but it seemed that they were going to be outbid. But they got it, against all odds, and someone said to then, “the farm chose you.” That’s how it felt when I bought this piece of land. I overcame so many odds, which felt insurmountable, to become the proud owner of this lovely farm. It did feel like “the farm chose me.”

In honor of Willi, I have nurtured the thornless blackberry patch with water, weeding, pruning, staking and bird netting. The result is a flourishing berry-patch which provides us scrumptious berries for our breakfast each day. This weekend, we’re having a family reunion, and I’ll make a peach and blackberry cobbler. And the grandchildren will pick some of the luscious berries, getting the juice all over their fingers and mouths as they pick and eat, pick and eat. We’ll pick extras for some jam too.

I’ve included a photo of the patch and some of the garden. And think rain!

Luscious Tomatoes

Luscious Tomatoes

The garden in August

The garden in August

Baby deer and mama in the apple orchard

Farm blog, July 31st 2014

Two baby deer in the orchard

Two baby deer in the orchard

          As much as I hate to think the word ‘drought’ in case I’m creating more reality to it with my thoughts, we are experiencing the driest summer I can remember in my twenty-four years in Northern California. The grass is so dry in the orchard, that it crunches underfoot when I walk between the trees.

The old apple trees are alright, since I put in drip irrigation six years ago–you can see the green ring around them, but in between the ground is parched and brown.

All the animals are having trouble finding food. The deer come and munch the green around our apple trees and we put out banana peels for them and melon rinds­, things that don’t compost well and that are treats for them.

Baby deer running to their mother

Baby deer running to their mother

There’s a mama deer and two baby ‘bambies’ who visit from time to time. Yesterday I was able to snap a few photos as they ambled through the lower orchard. It has been several weeks since I spotted them. The babies were brand new then and they have grown so much, but are still gangly and staying close to their mother.

Here are a few glimpses of them from yesterday.

Think rain!

Mama deer and babies in the orchard

Mama deer and babies in the orchard

running after mama

Running after mama-wait up!

 

 

 

Photos I took at the 70th anniversary of D-Day in France

The beautiful and undiscovered village of Talloires, on Lake Annecy, Rhone Alps, France

Talloires, voted one of the most beautiful villages in France…

The charming village of Talloires near Annecy, in the Rhone Alps...

The charming village of Talloires near Annecy, in the Rhone Alps…

Just 13 kilometers away from the bustling city of Annecy, sharing the same pure, sparkling water of the lake that shares the city’s name, the village of Talloires goes relatively unnoticed  Except for the folks who know about its beauty and quiet charm and come back year after year to enjoy its special gifts.

The trip from Paris to Talloires on the high speed train takes just over three hours.  Or you can fly into Geneva, rent a car and drive the 45-minute drive through the mountains and down to the lake,

I first visited Talloires in 2011, when my husband and I stayed with a friend who had a summer home perched on the hill overlooking the lake. Each morning, I’d walk down through the narrow street of the village for a swim in the cool, clear lake, then stop at the boulangerie for some croissants or pain au chocolates to carry home for breakfast out on the terrace.

Both of us fell in love with the quiet elegance of the village, of how its tiny size made it seem like we were living in a movie set, surrounded by French vacationers with no Americans in sight. I loved speaking French when I chose my peaches, lettuce and tomatoes at the open market on Thursday morning, or when I bought wine, cookies and tea in the little super market.

Cherries and Apricots at the open market in Talloires...

Cherries and Apricots at the open market in Talloires…

The open market on Thursday morning in Talloires

The open market on Thursday morning in Talloires

The French didn’t seem to mind us being there, possibly because I spoke French. We relished sharing their experience of being ‘en vacancies’ in the slow, relaxed heat of the summer sun.

The village originally was settled by some monks and the best hotel, L’Abbaye, the site of their original monastery. It overlooks a bay that has been voted one of the ten most beautiful bays in Europe. They say that the monks chose the village and the site of the monastery/hotel based on the energy, and it still seems to hold true–there’s a distinct peace and serenity to the grounds, where many choose to enchange wedding vows. Some of the original buildings still stand, their arched walkways now sheltering tourists in bathing suits, not monks in long robes on their way to mass.

This past summer, 2013, we returned to Talloires, renting an apartment right in the center of the village, a two minute walk to the lake and a one minute walk to the boulangerie. We loved having a kitchen to prepare our own meals and a refrigerator to store all the bounty from the open market–fresh berries, reblochon cheese from the dairy up the hill, fresh eggs from the local hens.

Local Reblochon cheese from Chalet de L'Aulp

Local Reblochon cheese from Chalet de L’Aulp

Again, I walked to the lake each morning to swim, returning home with a baguette or morning croissants. There’s not much to do in Talloires, which makes easing into the relaxation of summer that much easier. There’s reading a book under a tree along the lake, after a delightful swim. There’s going to dinner at the restaurant de la place, which often has live music on Saturday nights and where you may have to wait an hour for a table. If you want activity, you can take a water taxi or drive, bicycle or take the bus the 13 kilometers to Annecy and get your fill of hustle and bustle.

The old church rang it’s bells on the hour, every hour, even though very few parishioners went to church anymore and the priests had to rotate among the villages along the lake, saying mass on alternate Sundays. The sound of the bells gave a consistency to our days and our three weeks passed with a dreamlike quality of quiet enjoyment.

One day, we rented bikes and pedaled around the lake, stopping for lunch along the way. The tour de France came nearby twice, providing an exciting spectacle. Another day, we hiked in the hills above a reblochon family run dairy, then dined in their tiny restaurant, watching the sun set from the terrace as the cows went out for the evening, their bulky bells ringing in the quiet evening air. We savored the rich tartiflette, a sizzling specialty of the region, consisting of the local cheese, potatoes and bacon, paired with a chilled ‘cote du Rhone’ white wine and fresh baguette. For dessert, their fresh berry tart, topped off with cream from the cows.

My husband tried parenting, which involved jumping off a mountain and circling with updrafts under a tiny, flimsy looking parachute. He loved it.

As a special treat, on one of our last nights, we went to dinner at the L’Abbaye Hotel. As we sat in the garden under the huge old trees that must have dated back to the monks, sipping an aperitif, the sun slipped into the bay, the light glancing off the boats moored nearby. Sous chefs bustled from the herb garden back to the kitchen carrying their bounty. Each dish arrived with a flourish, the food decorating the plate as much as it tantalized our taste buds. When we strolled back up the hill to our apartment, happy and satisfied, the empty cobblestoned streets echoed with our footsteps, the bells telling us it was ten pm, and most of the village had gone to sleep.

 

Its always a quandry–as a travel writer, if I share my secret places, will I return to find them ruined? Yet Talloires hasn’t changed from the early photographs you can see around town. Can it stay as it is? My guess is that it can. Its very ordinariness is what allows it to go unnoticed and what also gives it its special charm. The village has cast its spell onto me. We will go back. And savor again its timeless quality of beauty and charm.

For more information, go to http://www.Rhonealps-tourisme.com
http://www.abbaye-talloires.com
http://www.talloires-lac-annecy.com

 

Don’t look now, it’s the invasion of the GIANT…

Don’t look now, it’s the invasion of the GIANT…

The giant zucchini plus some luscious tomatoes

The giant zucchini plus some luscious tomatoes

 

Well, you guessed it, zucchini. They were so well hidden under the large leaves of the spreading zucchini plant. I didn’t see them and then, whoa, there were six of them, all the size of fat baseball bats. My little grand nephew, Dylan, with his sharp 6 year-old eyes, spotted them. “Aunt Diane, I see another one”, he kept saying.

We hauled them to the house and I’m contemplating them–hmmm, zucchini bread, zucchini muffins, stuffed zucchini, baked zucchini…

When my daughters were little and I was just a beginning gardener, we went off on vacation and came home to these behemoth invaders of our garden. I tried so many different ways to cook the monsters up that my oldest, Michelle, would poke at the dish in front of her,  look up and inquire ‘Is there zucchini in this?’ If so, she wanted nothing whatsoever to do with it.

Well, there’s always the chickens and the deer to feed.

On the other hand, I relish the bounty of tomatoes. The ones on the table next to their green neighbors were picked in about 5 minutes, and I do that daily. We’re loving their lusciousness, cut up with fresh ground pepper and sea salt on them, so full of vitamins and minerals.

I was thinking just what a good investment a garden is. Think about it. A tomato plant costs about three dollars, or less. With good soil, water and sun, it will produce for you so may pounds of tomatoes that taste best when picked ripe and red, just before eating. The ones in the store can’t be shipped that ripe, they will rot in the meantime, so you can’t get the same flavor and freshness from the store bought ones.

At my local organic store, the heirloom ones cost $5.19 per pound and the other ones priced out at $3.29. So fifty pounds of tomatoes from your plant that cost you $3, come back at over a $200 return for your time and effort. (We’re eating heirloom and other ones.) Not to mention how much better they taste and the supreme satisfaction of eating something that you grew yourself.

I love to garden and love to harvest what I’ve grown. Fall is such an amazing time. Right now, we have three kids of figs, plums, tomatoes, pumpkins, squash, eggplants, basil, parsley, not to mention apple trees bulging with bright red apples ready to pick.

More soon about the apples. I’m asking them to hold on a few more days while I deal with these tomatoes and zucchini…

Enjoying the goodies from my farm.

Enjoying the goodies from my farm last week.  The grapes are done now.