May 31, 2010

TIME TO SMELL THE ROSES


The Loire valley is lovely at this time of year. Very floral and fragrant. These photos are all from our holiday at the end of May 2009.
















May 26, 2010

PREVIEW



We have enjoyed some rather fine weather here in Derbyshire during May. It happens like this most years. We get a few warm and sunny days in May and we get all excited. Out comes the garden furniture and we have a barbecue. Then it goes back under the covers for most of June, July and August !!




Reading Ken's post recently, I am reminded how different things are in the Loire. Yes it will rain and it may cool off a bit, for a while. But you can guarantee that the summer there will be better than it will be in the UK. Usually it is a few degrees warmer, much brighter and somewhat drier.

Here are some photos from our trip in May last year. It was just the beginning of a really good summer.





Barrie's well.



Chez Barrie.





Apéro time in the square.





And we're not the only ones who love the sunshine!

May 21, 2010

MORE HOLIDAY COOKING


I have started to enjoy baking again, especially when on holiday, mainly because I have the time to do it properly. Well, kind of, anyway.
.
One of the challenges of baking on holiday is finding the ingredients in the recipe, or the French equivalents thereof. Also, many recipe books these days originated in Australia or the US and have unfamiliar-sounding ingredients and measurements. So a good deal of ad-libbing has to be done, all adding to the fun.
.
On the very last day of our Easter holiday our friends Ken and Walt were coming to lunch and I decided to make tarte au citron, having never made it before.
.
The recipe was in a book a friend had given to me and it required someting called "powdered sugar". I had never heard of this before and guessed it was either icing sugar or caster sugar.
When I got to the shops I found sucre en poudre so bought that and sure enough, it turned out to be caster sugar.
.
I bought the eggs, lemons and a pack of ready-rolled shortcrust pastry, also a tart dish as I didn't have one at the house. We are gradually building up our cooking equipment there. I had brought with me from the UK a set of cup measures as I have come unstuck before, trying to use a non-English recipe assuming one cup was half a pint or 10 fl ozs. Reading Ken's blog a while ago (a discussion on baking brownies if I remember correctly), I realised that one cup is 8 fl ozs, which explains why whatever I baked didn't quite turn out right.
.
I started baking for the lunch in good time. Unfortunately, I hadn't read the full recipe before I went shopping, only the list of ingredients. So I discovered I had no beans to use to bake the pastry blind. So I ad-libbed and used lentils. They worked fine.
.
The tarte was good. It didn't quite look as perfect and professional as in the picture as I had no icing sugar to sprinkle on the top. But it tasted lovely.
.
As I was serving it I then realised that in fact I had made this lots of times before. It's just lemon meringue pie without the meringue on top.

.

Callie came to lunch, too.

May 14, 2010

HOLIDAY COOKING

Back in March, I was invited to a "Pampered Chef" party by my friend Cyn. I had no idea what this meant but it sounded like fun so I went.

Pampered Chef is a company selling good quality cookwear. The party was a bit like a Tupperware party of the 1970's. Or at least I imagine so because I never actually went to a Tupperware party. In those days I was so short of money that even if I had leftovers, having special plastic boxes to keep them in was completely out of the question.




About 20 ladies were treated to a cookery demo using Pampered Chef pans and gadgets and we ate the goodies afterwards. The thing that impressed me most was the mini muffin pan and dibber (sorry, can't remember the real name for this). In fact I bought two; one to keep at home and one to use in France to make apéro time nibbles. It's superb.


Basically, what you do is put a lump of ready-made pastry in each hole in the pan and push it into shape using the dibber. This makes a tart case that fills the hole perfectly. Then you add the filling of your choice and bake.


The demo lady made little vegetable quiches and banoffi tarts for us. I have experimented with quite a few different fillings. It all comes out perfectly edible and even scrumptious. Getting it to look tidy enough to serve to guests is the tricky bit.




The first time I tried at home I used ready-made shortcrust pastry, just like at the demo, and it worked fine. In the UK this pastry can be bought in blocks so you just cut the block into squares of a suitable size, whack it with the dibber and away you go.


In France, I couldn't find any blocks to buy. All I could find was ready-rolled circles of ready-made pastry, either shortcrust or puff pastry. This caused some head-scratching. I hadn't got any cutters the right size so in order to use the dibber I had to be slightly inventive.


First attempt I used shortcrust pastry, folded the circle up, cut it into pieces and formed them into balls that could then be given the dibber treatment. They turned out fine but I thought the pastry was a bit dense, probably due to being worked twice over.





Next attempt I used puff pastry, hoping they would come out lighter and more melt-in-the-mouth. I rolled the circle into a sausage, cut it into slices, flattened and reshaped each slice a bit into a small round and used the dibber. The idea was that the pastry would rise upwards in the way you would expect it to. The result was tasty but a visual disaster. Most of the nibbles rose so much that the fillings were tipped over the top and all over each other. Like little leaning towers of Pisa.


Nick then had the bright idea as follows: I rolled the circle into a sausage and cut it into slices as before. Then I laid each slice in the hole as if it were a catherine wheel. The theory was that as the pastry cooked it would spread sideways and not rise upwards. It worked a treat.





The fillings that we liked the best were goats cheese with onion relish (the relish was brought from home), and goats cheese with smoked salmon. In Auchan I found little packs of smoked salmon lardons - small chunks just perfect for the job.



At the demo we made mini banoffi pies using a Rolo in the bottom of each tart with a slice of banana on top. They were positively gorgeous. I couldn't find Rolos in France so tried using a slice of mini Mars Bar. They didn't work. The chocolate boiled over everywhere and they looked such a mess I couldn't possibly serve them to guests. They were delicious !!

May 11, 2010

FRENCH CREEPY CRAWLIES

When we were about half way through our week in Le Grand-Pressigny at Easter, Nick came back with Lulu from their morning walk with a very strange tale to report. Something about a seven-metre long trail of caterpillars. Intrigued, we both picked up our cameras and set off back up the hill to the château.





Sure enough, there they were, several incredibly long lines of large and very hairy caterpillars, moving very slowly, all joined nose to tail. How wierd.



Every so often, there would be a little pile of them.





On further investigation the trail seemed to be coming out of, or going into, the little wood behind the château. Then we looked upwards and saw something that looked like a nest in a pine tree.





We guessed that this must be the source of the trail as caterpillars seemed to be dripping out of it. In fact there were quite a few nests in the trees.






We mentioned this to Barrie who told us they were called "processional caterpillars" and they were poisonous so we mustn't touch them.




This probably explained why Lulu was quite off colour for the rest of the day. She was sick after her breakfast and yelped as if she was hurt somewhere, presumably caused by a reaction to having sniffed a caterpillar. Nick said he was sure she hadn't eaten one and there was no sign of an allergic reaction around her mouth or nose. But she was off her food all day and wouldn't even take her favourite treats.

Susan of Days on the Claise confirmed Barrie's warning and has recently mentioned them in her post here and included a link to more information here, if you would like to read more about it. Now that we know about the perils of processional caterpillars, we will be sure to keep away from them next year.

I am adding Ken's link here, and if you really like having nightmares read the section marked "dangers" !

May 6, 2010

DIFFERENCES

1. BREAKFAST

There are many differences between the way we live when we are in France and how we live at home in England. Breakfast is one of them.




When we are in France we usually take breakfast on the terrace, weather permitting, and not too early. We usually go to the boulangerie about 8.30 and are having our breakfast to the sound of the church bells at 9.00 am.


Breakfast usually consists of bread of some sort; sometimes a fresh flute or a ficelle from the boulangerie in the village, or possibly the remains of the previous day's baguette, toasted. Always with butter and jam - our favourite jams are abricot and reine claude. We also have orange juice and coffee. Maybe once or twice in a week we will treat ourselves to croissants from the boulangerie - not every day on the grounds that they are far too delicious therefore cannot possibly be other than extremely fattening and bad for us.


"His beakfast"

At home our breakfast routine is quite different, but with a French twist to it. We get up at about 7.00am. Nick takes Lulu for a walk while I get the breakfast ready. On weekdays it never varies. It is always orange juice, tea and cereal with apple compote and fruit.

The apple compote came about because one of Nick's colleagues once asked him, many years ago, to bring back from France some cartons of Pomme Pote - little cartons of fruit compote that his children would eat - on their breakfast. We looked at it and thought we would like to try some ourselves. We enjoyed it and it has become a habit for the last 15 years.




"Her breakfast"


We then found that you can buy it in big jars, which we brought home by the dozen. I'm sure the checkout girls thought we were completely mad, filling our trolley with jars and jars of apple compote - most Brits just buy wine and cheese.


We soon noticed that it is more economical to buy in large tins, which we decant into a spare jar and keep in the fridge.


It's interesting that we have never seen it in English supermarkets. In France there are shelves and shelves of it - combined with apricot, banana, rhubarb and other fruits. You can get it in large tins, huge tins and positively industrial sized tins, as well as handy little one-portion-sized pots and cartons.

In the UK you can sometimes find small jars of Bonne Maman compote which is really expensive. Or you can buy large tins of mango compote, which seems slightly bizarre - I don't know of anyone who uses it. For a while Sainsburys had tins of stewed apple which is almost the same but they no longer seem to stock it. So we have to resort to bringing a few large tins of compote home with us each visit.

The question is, what on earth do the French people do with such enormous quantities of apple compote? Putting a spoonful on your cereal each day would only account for a fraction of what is on sale.

Answers on a postcard, please !!

May 2, 2010

ANOTHER DAY, ANOTHER MARKET

At the tourist office in Le Grand-Pressigny, you can pick up a leaflet giving details of market day in all the towns and villages in Touraine. It's very useful.

So, during our week there over Easter, we went to the market at La Roche-Posay which is on Tuesdays.





La Roche-Posay is a small spa town about twenty minutes drive from us. I am told that if you are suffering from certain ailments you can have a period of rest and a stay in the town prescribed for you under the French health system. What a great idea. We have also noticed people helping themselves to spring water from a tap in the village square.



Tuesday was a fine but cool day. We arrived at the town to find the market in full swing, along with a small funfair. The bright sunshine really brought out the colours of all the goods on display.









We bought olives and sundried tomatoes from the olive man.






We bought some cheese from the cheese man.





I bought some beads from the bead lady.





There was a stall selling ladies clothes and I noticed that the lime green colour we had seen in Amboise (here) seemed to be very predominant. In fact, later in the week we had lunch at the creperie in Descartes and that had also been redecorated in the same green, contrasted with a dark chocolate brown. It looked very smart and attractive. I asked the owner what the colour was called, was it citron vert or perhaps pistache? She said it was called vert anis. As luck would have it, I had just the previous week bought myself a new cardi from M&S in the same colour and was able to wear it on my hols feeling very à la mode !!


An example of vert anis.
I didn't get the Hermes bag, just the cardi !!


La Roche-Posay is a nice place with cafes and restaurants around the square, great for chilling out and just sitting and watching the world go by. After we had done our bit of shopping we stopped for a sit-down and a coffee.


We had a very nice petit-crème at a café which had the most awful, disgusting toilet, something I always find so baffling about French restaurants and cafés. The female owner/manager just seemed to be sitting watching her younger employee do all the work. A few minutes of her own time and a good pair of Marigolds would have sorted the job out. If the toilets are filthy it puts me off going back, however good the food. Moderately grubby is not so bad !!

.