While we had nearly a week's cold snap of frosts, this past week has warmed back up a little, and has been several degrees above freezing, but still far from warm. This has upped the stakes in our house-heating challenge considerably, but so far we have stuck to our guns, wanting to see just how long we can leave it until we put the central heating (radiators) on.
A large part of our motivation for this challenge were the three €500 gas bills we had last winter, but it is also better for the planet to use human heat as much as possible, not to mention saving on all the life-cycle emissions that would result from the production and use of the natural gas. And since I have a hard time imagining us being able to produce our own natural gas, it also is good practice for more self-sufficient days when hopefully we'll have a wooded lot that can provide our heating fuel.
We have been lighting the fire in the evenings, as a few weeks ago we had a wood delivery of 5 stères of firewood, but otherwise during the day I've just been wearing an additional layer of clothing (so a long-sleeved t-shirt, a fleece and a hooded sweatshirt). It is actually incredible how it may feel like the house is too cold, but simply putting on another fleece or sweater can remedy the situation rather than cranking up the thermostat. We had some practice with this last winter out of necessity, when our hot water heater broke down during one of the coldest weeks of the winter with snow on the ground outside and sub-zero temperatures. I kept all the shutters to the house shut to try to insulate it from the cold as much as possible, had the fire lit, and layered up the clothing, including a fleece hat and fingerless gloves. This was a little extreme, and I don't think I'd do that out of choice again this year, but it was very interesting to see that with a fire lit and warm clothes on we could survive comfortably even in the dead of winter. It must also be a testament to the construction techniques of generations past, as the thick stone walls of our house keep the place remarkably cool in the summer and definitely warm-er (if not exactly 'warm') in the winter.
So this year we are seeing just how late we can leave it to put the central heating on at all, and then when we do have to turn it on so we don't have to worry about pipes freezing, we'll just keep it set very low and still make use of the fire and an electric heater we have bought for the bedroom (waking up to a cold house with a cold bathroom was definitely the worst part), which should still save a lot of gas and money, as electricity is comparatively cheap in France with 80% of it nuclear.
As you may know the last couple of weeks have also been marked by continual strikes here in France as workers protested pension reform legislation, leading to fuel shortages. This also happened to coincide with World Go Vegan Week, so we decided to make use of the food we had in the garden and give the shops a miss so as to conserve fuel and also try eating vegan for the week. As we eat very little meat already, that wasn't really missed, but it was difficult trying to imagine a week without milk in our tea in the morning, butter for cooking and cheese to go on top of whatever we were cooking. We basically ended up making two large pots that lasted us three nights each, a black eyed pea coconut milk curry and a dish that is already one of our comfort food favorites, quinoa and lentil stew, both with veggies from the garden (the root vegetables we have left - and that I really need to pull up and store before the hard frosts return and truly set in - and some Swiss chard stragglers).
It was a very interesting experiment, and I have to say I really didn't miss the dairy as much as I thought I would. I probably ate a lot better in the day than I normally do as well, eating nuts and fruit, hummous and olives, oatmeal for breakfast, whereas I would tend to just have cheese and bread. I actually used to be allergic to milk/dairy when I was little, too, and I have noticed before I don't feel that great when I have been eating too much of it (easy to do here in France!). Overall I felt lighter and healthier and had a lot more energy, and at the end of the week when we had a pan-fried fillet of salmon with creamed leeks, both of us felt very heavy and almost queasy. We both also lost a few pounds, so this week we're continuing with the vegan diet as a sort of detox. While we wouldn't go completely vegan forever, I think it must be healthy to eat a primarily plant-based diet, focusing on vegetables and legumes/pulses with fish fairly often and just the occasional meat and dairy.
A food that would be very welcomed in this would definitely have to be pumpkin/squash, and at the minute, with the leaves turning their glorious fall colors and that delicious crisp feeling of the mornings, I am sorely regretting our decision not to grow any this year. Last year we had these two fabulous 20-kilogram pumpkins, but the plants took up literally about a third of our total growing space, so we opted to use the room for other things.
We also didn't have any pumpkins to carve for Halloween, a holiday that is growing in popularity here as French children have cottoned on that it means you get to eat as much candy as you want in sanctioned form for one day out of the year. With our fuel-saving and strict-eating ways the past week we also didn't have any candy in the house for the little princesses and skeletons that came knocking on the door chanting "On veut des bonbons, on veut des bonbons!" ("We want candy! We want candy!" - not quite the same ring as "trick-or-treat"!), or the strangely polite "Des bonbons, s'il vous plaît!" ("Candy, please!"). Fortunately however, the French kids haven't figured out the entire principle of the classic Halloween, that if there aren't treats you get a trick. So luckily we didn't have our house egged or tp'd!