Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Saturday, November 21, 2009

le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

We arrived at the bar last night to find dozens of people packed into the small heaving space beneath fluttering banners proclaiming le Beaujolais Nouveau est arrivé!

The third Thursday of November is, of course, when the barely-weeks-old Beaujolais Nouveau arrives, when bars and restaurants compete to cash in on this brilliant marketing coup by serving the new wine with local delicacies such as (here in Savoie) tête de veau, cochonnaille (pork by-products such as ears and feet - egads!) and potée (a hotpot of pork and cabbage). Framboise, my dieting friend and owner of the bar, thankfully opted for platters of garlic and herb saucisson and cornichons, salty goats' cheese with walnuts and slices of fresh baguette.

Many of our friends were there, including Mini-B, Nainbo, Papou (who was playing the accordion), Roquin, Top Modèl and the Swivel Chair, M. Boule De Billard - and old man Marcel (kleenex alert!) with his crocus-yellow teeth and slobbery basset chops.

As we jostled for space, two glasses of wine were passed to us with a: "That's from Thierry over there". Thierry is a man we've met maybe four times and on three of those occasions he's bought us a drink. This isn't an isolated incident; the generosity of the people here is overwhelming and it can be almost impossible to buy a round of drinks sometimes. But we tried and before we knew it, the last accordion note had died out, the bar was closing and we'd missed our pizzas. Instead, we stood in the kitchen when we got home eating cold vegetable curry straight out of the saucepan making farmyard noises of contentment. Yum.

Meanwhile, over in England, a musical event of an entirely different kind was taking place:

Biannual event in our small village hall is a spectacle to behold.

A Musical Evening: fiddlers, pipers, whistlers, piddlers. All hopelessly out of tune. Morris Dancers - twelve of - all thumping round the hall with their bells jangling and their sticks cracking. Two of them performed a rather inelegant dance BLINDFOLDED around 12 freshly-laid hens' eggs strategically placed 60cms apart on the floor. Yes they used a tape measure and no they didn't break one.

The best is yet to come: three morbidly obese lady clog dancers. No music. Rictus grins. Arms by their sides but feet and ample bosoms going like the clappers.

Five hours later I staggered home full of gin to find the cat had been sick on my bed. I do so look forward to these Musical Evenings.

Guest blogeuse, Miss Took, England

Friday, November 20, 2009

azure skies and cranes

Oh, glorious day!

Not only was the sun shining in a cloudless azure sky, but the little Italian man who arrived exactly 15 months ago to erect the crane, returned this morning to take it down. Yes - we've sold it - and for exactly the same price as we paid for it. I thought the chances of selling it at all were between slim and non-existent - so this is a huge result.

Every time I glanced out of the window to see how things were getting on, the Italian's mouth was motoring away and BB's head was moving like a nodding donkey, politely pretending to be listening. BB is a man of few words but prefers to hear even fewer. Four hours later, job done, he staggered into the kitchen and stood, shoulders slumped and head hung like a broken sunflower, exhausted from all that ear-bashing.

The crane is now sitting folded up, like a gigantic yellow insect, waiting to be pulled up onto the plateau and thence on to the buyer's site. It's removal feels like a bigger milestone than the completion of the roof somehow - probably due to the sleepless stormy nights I spent worrying about it toppling over.

Tonight we're going out for take-away pizza and a couple of beers in that bar so I'm off to doll myself up a bit and put on my best socks and shoes.

These pork and apple meatballs with apple sauce - based on another Delia recipe - were a huge hit at lunchtime. They're quick and easy and cooked completely in the oven, sparing all that messy frying business.

Serves 4
1 lb/450 g minced pork
4 oz/110 g breadcrumbs
1 onion, peeled and quartered
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and quartered
1 heaped tsp dried sage (I used fresh)
Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the sauce
½ onion, peeled and chopped
1 Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored and sliced
1 oz/25 g butter
Freshly grated nutmeg
1 tsp sugar

1. Pass the onion and apple through a mincer (I used my food processor) then mix with the pork, breadcrumbs and sage and season. Form into balls and place in a buttered ovenproof dish and cover with buttered foil. Place in the oven at 375°F/190°C for 45 minutes. Then remove the foil and raise the oven temperature to 400F/200C and continue to bake for a further 30 minutes, basting now and then, until the meatballs are nicely browned on top.

2. To make the sauce, soften the onion in the butter for 10 minutes, then stir in the sliced apple and 1 tablespoon water. Put a lid on and simmer till soft, then add a little freshly grated nutmeg and the sugar. Beat the sauce till fluffy and serve hot with the meatballs and mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

always be prepared

BB's had a bug for the last few days so there's been no activity on the mill and his loss of appetite has meant that my cooking repertoire has been restricted to soup and soft-boiled eggs. On Saturday morning, convinced that he had a temperature of 120 (as men do!), he stayed in bed while I went out to buy bread.

I don't know what possessed me to do this (actually I do, it was laziness), but I left the house wearing an old pair of three-quarter-length tracky bottoms with holes in the knees, my bubble gum-pink bed socks with silver hearts on the sides (a present from BB's aunt - great for slobbing around the house but should never be worn out in public) and my old paint-spattered gardening shoes with the unstuck right sole. I figured I would park right outside the boulangerie, approach the counter where nothing below my waist would be visible, buy the bread and dash back to the car without anyone spotting me.

Only, when I parked outside the shop, I clipped the kerb and watched in dismay as the back tyre deflated like a balloon.

When I couldn't get the wheel off I had to walk down the high street, loose sole slapping the pavement beneath dayglo sock like someone needing care in the community, and into the busy bar to call BB. Oh, the embarrassment. And BB wasn't exactly thrilled at being dragged out of bed (his death bed by this time) either.

"Always be prepared", as they say in the Girl Guides.

Chestnut soup with rosemary seemed like a good use of all those sweet chestnuts I collected from our trees last month, but after an hour peeling them with a sharp knife, two puncture wounds to my hand, three broken nails and an eye injury caused by flying shell shrapnel - here's a top tip: buy ready-peeled chestnuts!

Serves 4
8 oz/225 g peeled sweet chestnuts
1 medium onion, chopped
1 medium carrot, chopped
1 stick celery, chopped
2 medium potatoes, chopped
2 pints/1.2 l ham bone stock
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tsp finely chopped fresh rosemary to serve

Place all the ingredients in a large saucepan, bring up to simmering point, then put a lid on and simmer very gently for 45 minutes. Transfer to a blender and purée until smooth. Serve with the chopped rosemary.

♫ Cook along to: Glen Miller & His Orchestra The Chestnut Tree

Saturday, November 7, 2009

honey roast pork

We've had miserable weather lately - wind and torrential rain - which has seen the stream go from the lowest we've ever seen it to the highest in a matter of hours. We finished the mill roof just in the nick of time.

There is now floor decking down upstairs (the nice oak floorboards will go down right at the end) so I can walk around planning where furniture and light switches and bathroom fittings will go and I can walk out onto the balcony outside the bedrooms. I was tempted to put my hammock up straight away until BB pointed out that, given my accident-proneness, I would in all likelihood roll out of the hammock and over the edge and fall 20 feet into the river.

(I just asked BB: What do you call the thingy you're going to put along the edge of the balcony [so I don't fall off]?

BB: Grease.

I meant balustrade! Charming!)

The windows and doors arrive on 17 December (I don't know why it takes so long for standard-sized doors and windows to arrive) and will be fitted starting from the following day, so all being well, we should have a completely weatherproof house by Christmas.

The cider is still fermenting away and the bottles have acquired a foamy scum on the surface with what looks like frogspawn floating in it. It looks evil but I'm told this is normal.

I made honey roast pork with spices the other day with some of that award-winning honey. To make a honey glaze just mix some runny honey with a little water, 3 or 4 star anise and a heaped tsp of crushed coriander seeds. Heat in a pan, pour over the pork and roast in the oven.