Monday, September 28, 2009

state of play

I'm off on my annual pilgrimage to the Azores tomorrow morning to visit my best friends so I leave you with pictures of the roof as it looked at the close of play today. It's a long shot - but it could just be finished by the time I come back in a week.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Mini-B's been here the last few days helping BB with the slating - sporadically anyway, when he's not been summoned to remove his cows from someone's front garden or disappeared to exchange sackfuls of wild mushrooms for tractor tyres. Today they put up the first chimney and as BB stood back to admire their handiwork, I came along and said, "it's squint". This happens all the time and the script goes like this:

BC: That [chimney/window/door/beam/shelf] is squint.

BB: (long steely silence with much flaring of nostrils) Well it's too late to do anything about it!

BC: What do you mean it's too late? You've just this second put it [up/in/on].

BB: Well I'm not changing it!

BC: Ok. We'll just be known as the foreigners who live in the crooked house.

That works every time and he spent the next hour (huffing and puffing) trying to budge the chimney a couple of centimetres.

When I was out running earlier I thought I'd stumbled across a family of baby hedgehogs, these sweet chestnuts were so big. They were as big as tennis balls but you wouldn't want to slip one of these in your pocket for your second serve. Which brings me nicely on to bulls' testicles. Poire is just back from holiday in Alsace where rognons blancs featured on the menu in a restaurant they went to. I'll just file those with tête de veau I think.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

shiny shiny roof

The roof is completely waterproof now and the battens and copper edging and guttering are on. The copper was eye-wateringly expensive but it lasts forever and reacts with rainwater to keep the slates moss and lichen-free. It also looks rather grand when it first goes on but sadly it will naturally oxodise from that lustrous finish to a deep bronze and eventually to a verdigris patina.

I found this photograph (below) of the roof of the house we're in now (which I'm going to call L'Atelier because it was originally two semi-detached workshops), taken at the same stage as the mill roof and it looks tiny in comparison: 120 square metres to 232 square metres to be exact.

We didn't have a crane first time round so BB set up a pulley and winch system to get the slates up to the roof. If you look closely (click on the photo to enlarge) you can see a 'tramway' in the centre of the roof (two vertical battens close together) below which there's a rope attached to a wooden box. When BB needed more slates, he would whistle and I would trot over, carry bundles of 20 up onto the scaffolding, place them in the box and hoist them up the tramway with the rope, puffing away like a rheumatic chicken. Boy, I was keen back then (well I was in the first flush of wedded bliss) but after seven years of building work my enthusiasm has, shall we say, dulled slightly - rather like the copper.

I've added a new feature opposite where you can view a slideshow of the progress of the building work from the beginning to the present day. I'm afraid you have to set up a snapfish account to view it (I can't find a way round this) but it takes 10 seconds and only requires you to give your name, email address and a password.

♫ View along to:
The Velvet Underground Venus in Furs

Friday, September 18, 2009

roasted tomato soup

We're off to a Bavarian soirée tonight, advertised on the flyer as: ambiance Tyrolienne avec Magalie la Yodleuse (a Tyrolean atmosphere with Maggie the yodeller), where for €17 a head we can eat choucroute (sour cabbage) and drink bladder-deforming quantities of beer.

Things have advanced on the roof and I promise to bring you some photos in a couple of days. In the meantime, the tomatoes keep coming so here's a recipe for roasted tomato soup with basil purée.

Serves 4
3 lb/1.35 kg ripe tomatoes
3 garlic cloves, left whole and unpeeled
1 oz/25 g basil leaves
5 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp caster sugar
1 onion, chopped
2 celery sticks, chopped
2 tsp sundried tomato paste
25 fl oz/750 ml vegetable stock
salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Skin the tomatoes by pouring boiling water on them, leave for 1-2 minutes then slip off the skins.

2. Cut the tomatoes in half and arrange on a baking tray, cut side up and top each half with a basil leaf. Place the garlic cloves on the tray too, leaving their skins on. Then drizzle with 1 tbsp olive oil, sprinkle on the sugar and season with salt and pepper. Roast for about 1 hour at 370°F/190°C or until the edges of the tomatoes are slightly blackened.

3. Heat 2 tbsp olive oil in a pan and fry the onion and celery for 5 minutes until soft. Add the tomato paste and stock and simmer for 15 minutes.

4. Scrape the tomatoes and any juice and the garlic pulp (skins removed) into a food processor, add the stock mixture and whiz to a purée then sieve to remove the pips.

5. Just before serving make the basil purée. Strip the leaves into a mortar, sprinkle them with half a teaspoon of salt, then bash the leaves down with the pestle. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Drizzle over the reheated soup.

♫ Cook along to: Teenage Fanclub (they have a song called the cabbage but this is one of my TF faves) Start Again

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

la chasse

Brrrr. It's cold. I'm wearing socks for the first time since April and I'm seriously thinking of lighting the fire. I'm not complaining though. We had a glorious summer - lots of sunshine and dining alfresco and swimming - and now we have skiing to look forward to. Bring on the snow.

On Sunday (the start of la chasse - the hunting season) we had lunch chez Nainbo where we arrived to find him (still, after three hours!) stuffing green beans into empty plastic Perrier bottles. "Mini-B told me this is the best way to freeze them", he said as we tittered, knowing that Mini-B was pulling his leg. I've just frozen mine the traditional way - by blanching and placing in freezer bags.

Nainbo is a very good cook, effortlessly throwing things together from the garden without any fuss. Before I moved to France, other than my good friend HC, the only men I knew who were interested in cooking were professional chefs, but here you're as likely to hear regular guys swapping bread recipes in the bar as you are to hear them discussing football - and just as fervently.

For starters we had salad of green beans, tomatoes, peppers and red onion (all from the garden) with a vinaigrette sauce, followed by roast leg of lamb accompanied by creamed sorrel with fried bread topped with sliced hard-boiled egg.

Top Modèl, who just got his permis de chasse this season, joined us for cheese and spiced pears with champagne to celebrate his first kill - three wild boar. We won't be seeing him on the roof at weekends from now on.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


...don't you just love it!

♫ Snap along to: David Bowie Starman

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

kite flying

BB's having a hard time of it at the moment: he's having to put the remaining insulation panels and roofing felt on by himself because there's nobody around to help during the day. The polyurethane panels (measuring 9 feet by 4 feet) are stacked on palettes and lifted up to the roof on the crane fork but they tend to stick together. With two people, one either end, it's easy to jiggle them apart before flipping them into position but on your own with just one end to hold, it's a bit of a performance - especially when standing on wet slippery wood. And unrolling and attaching the roofing felt single-handedly is a bit like trying to fly a kite from up a tree in strong winds.

The remote for the crane broke (again) and he had to drive all the way to Lyon on Monday (2 hours away) to pick up a spare, which, when he got it back, didn't work either. So yesterday was spent waiting around all day for a phone call from the remote guy with instructions on how to fix it.

After lunch today I went out to do some things in the garden and when I passed the window five minutes later, BB was still sitting at the kitchen table gazing at his navel. The second time I passed, he was tidying out his tool belt; the third, brushing cobwebs off the ceiling; and the fourth, loading the dishwasher (for the first time ever) - anything to put off going back up on the roof!

Monday, September 7, 2009


We attended our 7th annual village fête yesterday (I sent myself a sick note and took the day off today!) and as I looked around I realised that nearly every couple we've known since we moved here have split up. On the plateau just above us, one neighbour is having an affair with his next-door neighbour's best friend and his wife is having an affair with a much younger work colleague. The husband of the aforementioned next-door neighbour has just run off with his wife's sister. Their next-door neighbours, who were both previously married to other people, were having an affair before her husband was killed in a hunting accident. And their next-door neighbour (female) ran off with the baker's wife. And that's just within 200 yards of us. The mayor in the next village recently left his wife of 20 years for the waitress in their restaurant. And who should the jilted wife turn up with at the fête yesterday - but her husband's mistress! Call me old fashioned, but that seems a bit bizarre to me.

I hope all this wife swapping isn't contagious because I kind of like BB (whose take on affairs, incidentally, is: "why would you want more than one woman giving you grief"!).

I made one of my favourite veggie recipes today with hazelnuts (and last year's walnuts) from our tree - a classic nut roast.


40 g/1½ oz butter
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 sticks celery, chopped
225 g/8 oz mixed nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, brazils) coarsely chopped
225 g/8 oz tomatoes, skinned and finely chopped
175 g/6 oz wholemeal breadcrumbs
salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 eggs, lightly beaten

1. Melt the butter in a large pan and fry the onions and celery for 5 minutes.

2. Add the nuts, tomatoes, breadcrumbs, salt and pepper and eggs and mix together.

3. Spoon into a greased 450 g/1 lb loaf tin, cover with oiled baking foil and bake for 50-60 minutes in the oven at 220°C/425°F.

♫ Cook along to: O'Jays Back Stabbers

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Hong Kong garden

We'd just finished lunch this afternoon (melon du jardin followed by another Chinese dish with green peppers) when a car crawled past the house and BB said, "that's the car of the guy who used to live here in the mill" - despite having only seen it once five years ago! BB can tell you the owner of every car in the village and beyond by the make, model, type and colour and, where there's more than one of the same (e.g. Citroen/C15/first/white - of which there are many here), the registration number. He often asks, when a car passes, "who was that?"

BC: Don't know.

BB: Well what car was it?

BC: Kind of pale yellow.

BB: What type?

BC: Mmm. Lemon chiffon maybe.

BB: No. The make?

BC: Four-door?

BB: Strewth!

Anyway, back to the car - this guy was born in the mill in 1934 and is the nephew of the previous owner, Leon Viard (or the son of Leon's brother Elie, if you like), mentioned in le moulin - a history. It was obvious they (he was with his wife) were itching for a look round so we went out to greet them and gave them a tour.

It must be strange going back to the house of your birth after 75 years to find so many changes. But he was aware of the state it was in before we even bought it (holes in the roof, major roof timbers broken or burnt, rotting principal supporting beams, floors propped and re-levelled) and seemed genuinely pleased with the work we're doing. When I asked him if he could have imagined a swimming pool in his old house he replied that he could never have imagined running water!

This Chinese chicken curry recipe by Ken Hom was brilliant.

Serves 4
450 g/1 lb boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into 2.5 cm/1 in chunks
1 egg white
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tsp cornflour
300 ml/10 fl oz water
1 tbsp groundnut oil
225 g/8 oz green peppers, cut into 2.5 cm/1 in pieces
1 tbsp coarsely chopped garlic
150 ml/5 fl oz home made chicken stock
1½ tbsp Madras curry paste (I only used 1 dsp - which I thought was sufficient)
2 tsp sugar
1½ tbsp rice wine or sherry vinegar
1½ tbsp light soy sauce
1 tsp cornflour, blended with 1 tbsp water
basil leaves

1. Put the chicken in a bowl with the egg white, salt, sesame oil and 2 tsp of cornflour and leave for 20 minutes in the fridge.

2. Bring the water to the boil in a pan and add the chicken and leave on a low heat for 4 minutes until the chicken turns white. Remove.

3. Heat a wok until very hot and add the oil. Add the peppers and garlic and stir-fry for 2 minutes.

4. Add the stock, curry paste, sugar, rice wine, soy sauce and cornflour mixture. Cook for 2 minutes then add the chicken and stir until heated through. Serve with torn basil leaves.

♫ Cook along to: Siouxsie and the Banshees Hong Kong Garden

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

stir-fried pork with green peppers

I've just nipped out to the local produce shop to buy bread and a nice bottle of rosé and to pick some green peppers from the garden for a stir-fry. Poire's coming for lunch. He arrived at 7 a.m. to help on the roof and dropped off his electric tomato squeezer for me to play with. This is a serious bit of kit (with a price to match) which skins and de-seeds tomatoes in a nanosecond, leaving a pulpy juice which can be frozen for warming winter soups when you long for a little taste of summer. I prepared 5 kg this morning in 12 minutes (including time spent washing, cutting and mopping up the juice I spilt all over the floor) compared to the 30 minutes it took me to do the same by hand with 10 tomatoes for gazpacho. Poire likes his gadgets. He has all the professional 'Good Life' equipment for sterilizing, bottle drying, corking, juicing, pulping, slicing, carving, squeezing, grinding, mincing, popping, locking, boogalooing - ok, I made the last three up, but they all sound like funk-style dances. He also has a dozen remotes for assorted media entertainment, air con, heating, oven (his oven door opens at the press of a button and the shelf comes out automatically) - even his shutters are photo-activated. Pah! I have one master remote - it's called a husband.

Green peppers are very good in a stir-fry I think - especially with pork. This is my recipe for stir-fried pork with green peppers.
Serves 4
450 g/1 lb boneless pork, cut into smallish pieces
2 medium green peppers, cut into smallish pieces
2 medium onions, cut into chunks
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 dsp chilli sauce
1 tbsp groundnut oil
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the marinade:
1 tbsp rice wine or dry sherry
1 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp cornflour

1. Mix the marinade ingredients together and leave the pork in the marinade for 20 minutes.

2. Heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry the pork until brown (about 2-3 minutes). Remove.

3. Reheat the wok and stir-fry the onions, garlic and green peppers until the pepper skins become slightly blistered. Then add the pork and the chilli sauce and stir until heated through. Serve with rice or noodles.

♫ Cook along to: Martina Topley Bird Intro