Sunday, June 28, 2009

quiet please

If I could take a picture of the inside of my head, it would have looked like this yesterday before the BBQ - like a fresh Alpine meadow ...

and this morning ...

I was glad I'd bottled some of that precious spring water last night because when I awoke, my mouth was as dry as an Arab's sandal. And then I was assaulted by the smell of ripe cheese when I came downstairs to find Mini-B (who hadn't been home for three days!) asleep on the sofa. After I had dispatched him (tsk tsk begone and beshowered), I repaired to a darkened room to watch the tennis.

Quiet please.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


I have a vivid memory from my time working in Courchevel, of another seasonaire coming into the bar mid-shift and asking for a glass of water. As she drained the glass, her eyes rolled back in her head and, wiping her mouth with her sleeve, she said, "that was delicious". At the time, it struck me as a very kooky way to describe water (delicious is a ripe peach or a Gariguette strawberry) - but now I know exactly what she meant.

I mention this because on Sunday, a group of us are going up into the mountains towards the col for a BBQ, and next to the little cabane de chasse there's a spring that's been piped a short distance down into a hollowed-out tree trunk, where during the steamy summer months I often dream of going just to taste the delicious cold mountain water.

The BBQ is a team belot affair, paid for out of the remaining kitty, and I have been put in charge. You'd think a barbie would be a very casual, stress-free event to organise, with everyone standing around sipping wine and helping themselves to another crevette from the grill. Not so here. Our French amis insist on sitting down at a table to eat and for said table to be properly set with table cloth, china plates and proper cutlery (no paper plates or plastic knives and forks please!) and to eat a four course meal comme d'hab. All fine and dandy, but a bit of a mare to arrange 1600 metres up a mountain where the nearest parking spot is 30 minutes' walk away!

I've decided to do bruschetta with chopped tomatoes and basil as a starter. This is one of my summer staples when the tomatoes and basil are growing rampantly in the garden. Just place slices of good quality bread in a griddle pan or on the BBQ and toast on both sides. Rub with a clove of garlic, pile on some chopped tomatoes, season with salt and pepper, top with torn basil and drizzle with olive oil.

le Moulin - June update

I promised you some pictures of the mill, so here goes. Click on the photos to enlarge.

This was the view at 9.00 am two days ago ...

and then at 2.00 pm yesterday ...

(N.B. All that ugly concrete block work will eventually be covered with nice douglas wood.)

And just to remind you of what it looked like before, this was in December last year (brrrrr) ...

and October, not long after work started ...

Monday, June 22, 2009


I've just been over to check on progress on the mill (I usually observe from afar, i.e. the upstairs bedroom window, in case I'm asked to hold something for about 10 hours) and there are now internal walls on the ground floor: I have a kitchen, a sitting-room and a laundry room into which I can fit myself and the laundry basket simultaneously, and a long wide balcony where I'm going to sling my hammock and lie and contemplate the mountains.

My favourite bit of the house is the staircase going down into the cellar. I've always dreamed of a house with a cellar - a creaky old wooden door opening into a dark secret passage - but in my wildest imaginings, I never envisaged myself descending into that dark secret place and being confronted with one door into a wine cellar and another into an indoor swimming pool!

After I'd held a measuring tape for about 10 hours, I practised walking up and down the stairs for a bit then stood on the spot in the wine cellar where the mill wheel should be (actually where it still is, only it's buried under two inches of concrete), picturing rows of dusty bottles of wine (that really is a wild imagining) and shelves of jams and jellies and preserves and compotes, of dried herbs and infused oils and candied fruit and crystallised violets, of pâtés and confits and soused herrings, pickled cucumbers, cured hams and sun-dried tomatoes and wild mushrooms.

After all that imagining I felt like lying down - but there's veg to be planted (Roquin's donated leeks, cabbages and caulis), grass to be cut, geraniums to be re-potted, jams to be made, mushrooms to be dried, oranges to be candied ......

Sunday, June 21, 2009

champagne supernova jellies

These tiny fraises des bois are blushing all over the wilder parts of the garden, and in places where they've newly sprung up, their perfume reaches me before I spot them. I'm sure I can detect an infinitesimal scent of pink 'Bazooka Joe' bubble gum in amongst all that heady fruit aroma too, and they taste a bit like their smell.

You need such large quantities to do anything culinary with them that they're best eaten au naturel in my view (little bursts of 1970's summer disco on your tongue) or added to salads (with cucumber and feta cheese) or fromage frais. I like to stick bunches of them in a jam jar, downy foliage and fruit drooping on long slender stalks, to gaze at like an exotic plant.

A new crop has appeared along the bank of the stream below the sitting-room window where I've been doing a bit of tidying-up - restoring parts of the original stone wall and trying to eradicate the last of the dreaded invasive Japanese knotweed. So before Poire arrives tomorrow with his mini-digger to level the ground (and the Jk) I picked all the fruit and made champagne jellies.

I don't think the French do "jelly" (as in "jelly and ice cream"). Our friend and ex-neighbour, M. Souffleur De Verre, who lived in England for three years, loved it but said he couldn't get it in France - so I became his jelly mule. Every time I went back to Scotland I'd return with a suitcase full of Rowntree's jelly. I tried it out on Poire this evening (the jelly) and as he polished off the last perfect photo opportunity he stared at me in wonderment and said, "What was that? I've never had anything like that before."

Champagne jellies with wild strawberries

Serves 6
handful of wild strawberries (or small garden variety), saving 6 for decoration
8 sheets leaf gelatine, plus cold water to cover
1 x 750ml/1¼ pint pink champagne or sparkling rosé wine
juice of 1 lemon
100g/3½oz caster sugar
icing sugar to dust

1. Divide the de-stalked strawberries between glasses.

2. Place the gelatine sheets in a bowl and cover with cold water.

3. Put 150ml/5fl oz of the champagne/wine in a pan with the lemon juice and sugar and heat gently, until the sugar dissolves.

4. Remove the gelatine from the cold water and add to the pan, whisking until dissolved. Pass the mixture through a sieve into a bowl and allow to cool slightly.

5. Add the remaining champagne and leave until the jelly is cold and just on the point of setting then pour gently into the glasses.

6. When the jellies have cooled, place in the fridge until completely set. To serve, dust the remaining 6 strawberries with icing sugar and put one on top of each jelly.

♫ Cook along to: Miles Davis Summertime

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

salad days

BB was called upon to help Mini-B put a plaster cast on a calf's broken leg the other morning (honestly, talk about playing at vets!) and in return we won half a dozen lettuces - to add to the dozen that are ready to pick in my garden - so we're eating a lot of salad at the moment.

I can't eat salad without vinaigrette but mine never seems to taste as good as other people's for some reason. It's a matter of personal taste what you put in it and the ratio of oil to vinegar and so on (I prefer more vinegar than recommended and I use a mixture of olive oil and sunflower oil), but here are some ideas from Jamie Oliver. Just mix all the ingredients together. They all serve 4.

Herb and Red Wine
2 tbsp red wine vinegar
5 tbsp olive oil
1 level tsp salt
1 level tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 heaped tbsp chopped fresh marjoram
1 heaped tbsp chopped fresh basil
1 heaped tbsp chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp finely chopped shallots

Olive Oil and Lemon Juice
2 tbsp lemon juice
5 tbsp olive oil
1 level tsp salt
1 level tsp freshly ground black pepper

Marjoram and Balsamic Vinegar
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
5 tbsp olive oil
1 level tsp freshly ground black pepper
3 heaped tbsp chopped fresh marjoram

1 heaped tbsp Dijon or wholegrain mustard
2 tbsp lemon juice or balsamic vinegar
5 tbsp olive oil
1 level tsp salt
1 level tsp freshly ground black pepper

Anchovy and Caper
2 tbsp lemon juice
5 tbsp olive oil
1 level tsp freshly ground black pepper
6 anchovy fillets, chopped or pounded
1 tbsp small capers, chopped or pounded

Honey, Wholegrain Mustard and Garlic
½ tsp chopped garlic
1 tbsp of your favourite honey
1 tbsp wholegrain mustard
2 tbsp lemon juice
5 tbsp olive oil

Thursday, June 11, 2009

the long bad Thursday

Things didn't get off to a particularly good start today when I was awoken at 4 am by the rain tap-dancing on the roof then I couldn't get back to sleep. For BB's birthday today I planned on making a Black Forest Gâteau as per his request the other day, but as it's years since I last baked a cake, when I went to write a shopping list for the missing ingredients I found that I was also missing some vital equipment - such as cake tin and electric whisk. This discovery actually made my heart leap because it meant that I had an excuse to drive 130 km round trip to my favourite shop, Bos Equipement Hôtelier, in Moutiers. This is kitchen shop heaven - a ginormous warehouse filled with everything you could ever imagine or wish for in your kitchen/dining room/restaurant, and where it is rumoured that culinary colossus, Gordon Ramsay, buys all his kitchen and restaurant equipment.

However, my joy at shopping there was diluted, first when I got stuck in a traffic jam for two hours just outside Moutiers, and then when I went to take a picture inside the shop to show you how huge it is. This is the finger bowl section tucked away in a corner ....

As I was taking the picture I was approached by a member of staff who asked me what I thought I was doing - as if I was some Russian crockery spy - and all I could think of to say was, "je suis un bloggeur", before shuffling out of the shop (empty-handed) with my face like a beetroot. (Not only was this an embarrassing retort but it was also grammatically incorrect because I used (a) the indefinite article and (b) the masculine form!)

Back home, determined I was going to make the damn cake, I improvised using a flan tin and then cut circles out of the sponge with a scone cutter. The recipe then called for kirsch to be drizzled, cherry jam to be spread and double cream to be whipped to soft peaks.

Now, I can't seem to find double cream, as I know it, in France. The closest I've found is crème fleurette (whipping cream), which after I'd whisked by hand using a balloon whisk for 20 minutes - my arm going up and down like a fiddler's elbow - resembled something like cottage cheese. By this time I was thinking less of the photo opportunity and more about putting something edible on a plate, so as I finished off plating and sprinkling and topping, I went to set up to take a photo, slipped in some cat sick and dropped the plate. Et voilà!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

cherries in booze

There's not much to report on the building front I'm afraid because we've had a lot of rain recently which has stopped play. BB's in the middle of building five timber-framed panels (to support the purlins and the ridge beam) which will go up in the next few days - depending on the weather - so I shall be able to post some pictures soon. The rain has also prevented me from working in the garden as much as I would like which means that the weeds will be taking over again. Last year someone actually stopped and asked if I was growing grass, the weeds were so bad! Nobody else seems to have this problem so I can only assume they cheat and use chemicals.

One of my favourite things I like to do with cherries is cherries in booze - cherries preserved in sweetened gnole (hooch). I get my gnole from Roquin who makes it by distilling the marc (dregs) of the grapes after he's made his wine. Traditionally, griottes (sour cherries) are used for this but sweet cherries work just as well I think (although they shouldn't be too ripe) and go down very well with guests. Just fill sterilized jars with cherries still on their stalks and cover with hooch (you can use brandy or alcohol for preserving fruit) and add some sugar. You can keep adding sugar over time until you get the preferred sweetness. I bring them out at the end of a meal after expressos and serve in the same cup with the coffee dregs.

Monday, June 8, 2009

chimps' tea party

Mini-B and Nainbo came for lunch yesterday after the Sunday Club where I suspect a few pastises had been imbibed judging by the ensuing chimps' tea party. Mini-B arrived, kicked off his boots and promptly took a nap on the sofa, only deigning to join us mid-way through the main course when he elected to use his hands instead of the cutlery and managed to throw most of his food all over the floor.

For starters I made chicken liver pâté by whizzing up some chicken livers, which I'd gently fried in butter for 4-5 minutes, in a food processor along with a clove of garlic, some chopped fresh thyme, a couple of tablespoons of brandy and some melted butter. This was followed by whole roasted trout stuffed with fresh thyme (there's a surfeit of it in the garden at the moment) served with roasted lemons and sauté potatoes.

♫ Cook along to: Jeff Beck Line Dancing with Monkeys

Saturday, June 6, 2009

home again home again

May isn't the best time to go away on a jolly. In my absence everything in the garden has shot up and burst forth - the roses and lupins and hostas, the wild strawberries and cherries and vines and herbs - but also the weeds, so I've spent the last few days hoeing and strimming to get the garden looking respectable again. (BB had a sick note from his - eh - vet, due to his gored hand so wasn't able to carry out gardening duties. It was the vet who stapled his hand back together after the 'running with the bulls' incident and subsequently removed the staples at the veterinary clinic down at the market last week!)

Our cherry tree, which only had tiny hard green fruit when I left, is now groaning under the weight of plump black berries which need to be harvested quickly before the birds get to them. I picked about 10 lbs today and BB suggested that I make a Black Forest Gâteau to follow that old standard fall-back fare available in all British restaurants circa 1970 - prawn cocktail and steak and chips. Unfortunately I didn't have all the ingredients to make the BFG today but I made the prawn cocktail and steak with home-made oven chips.

Classic prawn cocktail
Serves 2
12 large prawns in their shells
1 Cos lettuce
lemon wedges
For the sauce
1 tbsp mayonnaise
1 tbsp tomato ketchup
few dashes Worcestershire sauce
few dashes Tabasco sauce
juice of half a lemon

♫ Cook along to: Aphrodite's Child The Four Horsemen (To HC in Glasgow - who's the singer? There's a clue in the recipe.)

1. Make the cocktail sauce by mixing all the sauce ingredients together.

2. Shred the lettuce and place in a glass with the peeled prawns, top with some sauce and sprinkle with paprika. Serve with lemon wedges.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

'one lovely blog' award

I've just returned from sunny Scotland (and for once it really was sunny) to find I have been awarded a One Lovely Blog award by Jen from Haute Whimsy. By accepting the One Lovely Blog award, I must also post the Rules of Blog Award Acceptance:

1. Accept the award, post it on your blog together with the name of the person who has granted the award, and his or her blog link.

2. Pass the award to 15 other blogs that you've newly discovered. Remember to contact the bloggers to let them know they have been chosen for this award.