Tag Archives: #Jura

Swift Moment

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A cloudless evening and the shrill cries of a small group of European swifts on an evening hunt for insects.

A summer concert told in sharp notes.

The swift has a wide range and enough numbers to be merit a population status of Least Concern from the IUCN. Considering the slow but persistent declines in common birds such as house sparrows due to habitat loss, it’s good to see a familiar bird adapting to changing circumstances.

The old farms in our French village all have ledges placed between the beams of barns for to support nesting birds (and to keep the floor beneath somewhat cleaner), a nice old habit that made space for wildlife in a way that modern garages and houses don’t.

Our own garage is still open and has old beams, home to several swift nests every year. Seeing them whisk in and out of the buildings at breakneck speeds is a thrill that never gets old.

A few of the many ledges for nests in the barn next door.
Photo: PKR

 

I found this interesting clip on the extreme lifestyle of the European swift – it can stay aloft for up to ten months of the year, and naps while gliding. Swifts might be common, but they are very special.

Summer Field Moment

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I was out running yesterday and there was a cushion of sound, a papery hum, that accompanied me for a long stretch.

At first I thought it was the standard ambient noise of my run: a bit of mountain wind, shards of birdsong, maybe an underlying rush of water from the creek in the middle of the nearby forest (but only if it’s just rained). And then there’s the busy road at the lower end of our village, and the occasional plane above. It’s a familiar palette.

But this was closer, and I was pounding along and breathing heavily, so the soft crackle carpet of this sound took a while to push through to my awareness enough to make me stop and take a detour into the neighboring field.

I should have known all along. A field of rowdy insect song, full of hidden animals drunk on the heat of a summer morning.

So I thought I’d share it.

Shadows and Light

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An unexpectedly glorious evening drew me out for a sunset run this week.

I got out while the sun was still peeking over the Jura, creating sharp divisions between gold-drenched light and the shadows below.

French Jura All photos: PKR

French Jura
All photos: PKR

These two fellows up on the hill were in high spirits, and stopped what they were doing to watch me watching them.photo 1-7

As I turned to leave, I heard the loud thudding of a rapid approach, and turned to find one curious pony who was ready for his close-up.photo 2-7

There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. Well, there was one cloud, strategically placed as if to provide a last glowing mirror for the setting sun.

Far in the background, over the mouth of the Rhône Valley, were a couple of contrails. I realized one reason the sky was so dazzlingly clear was that there were no other trails – usually the blue dome is criss-crossed the lines of jets flying across Europe.photo 5-2

 

It was an evening of appreciation.

I’m preparing to launch a new sister blog for ChampagneWhisky soon, one that will be open for contributions. Hopefully by the beginning of the new year. I look forward to new horizons.

New Arrivals

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The first snow of winter, marching towards us across the Jura.

Different perspectives on the approaching snowstorm on the French Jura. All photos: PKR

Different perspectives on the approaching snowstorm on the French Jura.
All mountain photos: PKR

The sun was shining in a final burst before a major storm that was due to hit overnight, and I had to go for a final autumn run in the last bits of warmth, even as I could see winter’s approach.photo 1-6

No images here of the white carpet that greeted us the following morning, it all started melting soon after sun-up.

But in celebration of winter’s greeting card, we tried the Suntory produced Hibiki Japanese Harmony Master’s Select blended whisky I mentioned in a recent post, a foray into mostly unexplored territory for single malt fans such as ourselves.

According to Master of Malt, “Hibiki Japanese Harmony is made with malt whiskies from the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, as well as grain whisky from the Chita distillery. The whiskies are drawn from 5 different types of cask, including American white oak casks, Sherry casks and Mizunara oak casks.” The blend includes ten different malt and grain whiskies.

photo 4-3

For me, this is limited edition blend is a curious mixture of tart, oaky acidity with round apple sweetness and not much in between, a double-edged sword that I’m not sure I love, but which I definitely enjoy. It’s like one of those candies which you might not like at first taste, but which you can’t seem to stop yourself from eating.

The Hibiki bottle and stopper.

The Hibiki bottle and stopper.

I do, however, think the bottle, with its 24 facets and matching stopper, is very lovely. The 24 facets are meant to represent the two dozen Japanese seasons, and I’ll be the first to admit that although I lived in Japan, I didn’t realize just how many seasons I was experiencing over the course of a year.

Alps across Lake Geneva, before their winter coat.

Alps across Lake Geneva, before their winter coat.

What I do know is that a new season is upon us. It’s cold outside.

Yes, winter is not only coming – it is already here.

That doesn’t have to be all bad.

Field Clocks

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Excerpt from the Crescenzi calendar (c. 1306) via Wikimedia by Pietro de' Crescenzi

Excerpt from the Crescenzi calendar (c. 1306)
by Pietro de’ Crescenzi via Wikimedia

There’s something reassuring in the routine of sowing and harvest. It’s not just the crucial aspect of food security.

It’s one way we, as humans, keep time. A vast clock that we make every year anew.

A nearby field, ready for final clearing. All photos: PKR

A nearby field, ready for final clearing.
All photos: PKR

It’s blazing hot here, and as I wrote yesterday, the local farmers are using the heatwave to cut, dry and bale the early wheat crop. The air is thick with the sweet scent of cut grain.

Prickly wheat heads try and hitch a ride on my socks as I run past. Even though they’ve been processed and sown and harvested, hitching a ride is just what seeds do.

The same field, less than 24 hours later.

The same field, less than 24 hours later.

In the pre-industrial era, how long would it have taken to work one complete grain cycle on this field? It would certainly have required a vast collective effort.

Even today, most of the large machinery is shared between local farmers. But a harvest like this only takes a day or so from start to finish, and the same machines can be seen rotating around the village this week, cutting and baling one field after another.

Ready for the next crop.

Ready for the next crop.

Locals tell me that sometime in the middle of the last century, fields were mandated to lay ‘outside’ the village so it could develop into a more ‘residential’ locale – but it’s only recently in the last 15 years that this tiny village of 700 inhabitants started really growing. Even when we moved here back in the 1990s, it was mostly families who had been here for generations, most of them with small farms that encircle the village like a moat.

Now, with new apartment developments springing up faster than summer corn, and the farmer families selling their land and moving away, the harvest is seeming more and more like a clock that is slowly winding down.

The Harvesters (1565) by Pieter Brueghel the Elder via Wikipedia

The Harvesters (1565)
by Pieter Brueghel the Elder via Wikipedia

The Urge to Affiliate

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photo 1I was out on a run yesterday, my usual loop, when I found this piece of tree bark lying across the path.

Here along the border between France and Switzerland, we’re in the midst of a bise blanche, a fierce wind that blows down through the Geneva basin from the north.

A bise blanche weather forecast looks cheery – wind and sun, like this:Screen Shot 2015-03-06 at 11.35.12 But the wind is a bully, cold and muscled. Roads and paths are littered with parts of trees and debris.

This bark segment caught my eye because it was colonized by so many different groups of lichen, moss and insects and spiders. Part of an arboreal architecture, home to so many other forms of life.photo 3-1

I couldn’t resist stopping to take a few pictures.

It’s a vision of life living on and with other life. photo 3-2

I had planned on writing today’s post on biophilic design. It’s defined as the integration design principles for architecture and urban planning with ‘biophilia’ – “the passionate love of life and all that is alive” (Erich Fromm in 1964) and “the urge to affiliate with other forms of life” (Edward O. Wilson in 1984).photo 1-1

The concept of bringing nature into cities and buildings has been gaining traction (taking root?) over the past couple of decades.

There are aspects of sustainability (green walls and vertical gardens, for example), but many correlate the integration of nature into design, including sunlight, with lower stress levels and better health and improved well-being.photo 2-1

Industrialization and its design aesthetics often led to a distancing from nature in homes and cities; many would argue this has been to our detriment (not to mention damaging to the environment). Biophilic design is an ongoing discussion on letting nature back in.

Feeling the wind blow through me while looking at this heavily inhabited bit of bark on a blazingly sunny afternoon, it’s almost impossible to imagine keeping it out.

Life finds its way in everywhere.photo 2

One Everything With Snow

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I have a friend in New York City who sometimes calls me while she’s on her way to work. And every so often, I’ll be a long-distance eavesdropper to an order of her favorite breakfast bagel: A toasted Everything with cream cheese.

I know it’s just a bagel order, but having an Everything for breakfast has always tickled me with its notion of cosmopolitan inclusiveness. Even if the Everything is just bagel with a mixed topping of poppy seeds, sesame seeds, caraway, dried onion and garlic, and salt. No dill, rosemary, countless other herbs and additions, no waffles, eggs, tomatoes, potatoes, blinis, and so on…so technically, not everything.

But still, a lot of things.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

I was thinking of that when I took this picture on my way home yesterday afternoon on blustery day of grey clouds, rain, snow, sunshine, patches of warmth and gusts of cold. The snow line looked like it had been drawn with a ruler, clouds covered the crest of the Jura in a thick topping of white, while a light drizzle fell over our house even as the sun shone.

So here’s my version of an Everything – the French Jura mountain range on a gloriously unpredictable Saturday afternoon in January. Delicious.

Solstice Splendor 2014

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Sunrise and sunset on the solstice.

To the east, the sun breaks a new day above the sharp peaks of the young Alps.

To the west, the day comes to its end as the sun sets behind the gentle slopes of the ancient Jura range.

Welcome, splendid Winter.photo-3

Blended Pumpkin Comfort

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Pumpkin from the garden. Photo: PK Read

Pumpkin from the garden.
Photo: PK Read

The weather over the last week has turned decidedly seasonal-appropriate, with a dusting of snow on the Jura range and wind that is anything but gentle.

The bird feeders are out, the garden is tucked in against the cold, and it was time for some comfort food.

Pumpkin soup, fortified with Gruyère cheese.

Used half, kept the rest for more soup this week… Photo: PK Read

Used half, kept the rest for more soup this week…
Photo: PK Read

Usually I make a simple stock using the pumpkin seeds scraped from the squash interior, carrots, turnips and celeriac, with a bunch of parsley. And I went to do exactly that yesterday, but found I was lacking a couple of ingredients, namely, the turnips and celeriac that give the soup its earthy, rounded flavor.

It was a lazy day, I didn’t feel like going to the store since the pumpkin was already roasting in the oven, so…I turned to whisky.

A world inside. Photo: PK Read

A world inside.
Photo: PK Read

I sautéd onions until they were glassy, then deglazed them with a couple of shots of Famous Grouse (no, I wasn’t about to use one of my good single malts for this one).

The result? Subtle, but tasty. A fine alternative, and also, a new thing I hadn’t tried before, an added positive.

Photo: PK Read

Photo: PK Read

The recipe is a bit fussy for something as simple as cream of pumpkin soup, but it’s both tasty and hearty, so here it is:

Heat the oven to 200°C (400°F). Cut and scoop a flavorful pumpkin (I usually use a red kuri squash). Keep the seeds and scooped bits.

Without peeling the pumpkin, rub the flesh with olive oil, place it flesh-down in an oven tin, and let it bake until completely soft. Remove it, let it cool, and you should be able to peel the skin right off the roasted pumpkin.

While the pumpkin is roasting, cut up a couple of yellow onions and sauté them in a pan with olive oil. Once they are glassy, add fresh thyme and sage, stir a bit, then deglaze with whisky.

Add the roasted pumpkin to the onions with a ladle’s worth of the broth, stir for a few minutes, then strain the broth into the pumpkin/onion mix until you get the consistency you like. Give it all a stir to get anything sticky off the bottom of the pot, then purée until smooth. Add a few dollops of cream (or milk), then slowly add a couple handfuls of grated Gruyère cheese, stirring the entire time. Not too much or you end up with stringy cheese soup (unless you like that, then add more).

Salt and pepper to taste.

Note: I’m celebrating my 500th post with this one – thanks for visiting!

Some smooth orange music to go with the soup:

Stopwatch Pause

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Yesterday I promised myself, while out running, that I would not dally to take pictures. And before that thought had even come to an end in my inner monologue, I came around a corner and saw an oak tree ablaze in the first autumn sunset of the year.

So I switched off my stopwatch, climbed under the electric fence (it’s meant to keep the horses in, not me out, right?) and stood very close to but not within a perilous patch of stinging nettle to catch a bit of equinox fire.photo 1_3

The newly orange and yellow leaves on the oak are not necessarily set apart from the golden hue of the sun’s rays in the last moments before it dipped below the crest of the Jura mountains.

The phone camera, wonder of technology that it is, still isn’t quite made for this kind of light – or perhaps I should say, in my impatient and unskilled hands, it wasn’t easy to catch both detail and light.

I opted for light.

Welcome, Autumn.photo 3