July 29, 2010

OFF THE LEAD


At approximately this very hour tomorrow, this is where I will be. Debriefing at the PreHisto.

The girls' weekend is becoming a tradition, well if you count two years on the trot. So I am travelling courtesy of Ryanair to Le Grand-Pressigny and Nick is staying home to keep house and walk the dog. For a whole weekend.

Three days off the lead. How good is that ??!!

July 25, 2010

HOLIDAY COOKING

The last time we saw Simon and Susan, they turned up in Le Grand-Pressigny with a little box of cherries, harvested less than an hour before from their orchard in Preuilly-sur-Claise.
We were leaving to come home to the UK the next day so we brought the cherries with us. They were delicious.

Not long after that Susan posted a recipe for clafoutis that looked very interesting. I had been looking for an easy clafoutis recipe for a while.


So I bought some more cherries and decided to have a go. It goes something like this:

Using a food processor or hand mixer, whiz together :
50g plain flour
50g ground almonds
100g sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
250ml plain yoghurt or a mixture of yoghurt and milk
Pour the batter into 6 large greased ramekins
Sprinkle on top 300g cherries
Bake at 180°C for 30-40 minutes.


The original recipe is in Susan's blog post here. I adapted it slightly for what I can get in the UK. I suppose you could argue that this is not true holiday cooking. I acquired some cherries on holiday but actually did the cooking at home. They were delicious.




Except that, on our next trip to France, I repeated the exercise in my little holiday kitchen and also branched out a bit. I made a batch of little cherry clafoutis and then some strawberry and blueberry clafoutis. They were very nice, too. Thank you Susan, for a great idea.

QUESTION DU JOUR.

Is the plural of clafoutis still clafoutis ??

July 22, 2010

THE CITROEN 2CV

Why do people love the 2CV so much ?
If you put "iconic French car" into Google, it comes up with lots of pictures of 2CV's. But I just don't get it. Or at least I thought I didn't.




There are still a lot of them on the road and all these pictures were taken on the same afternoon. We saw this one in Richelieu a couple of weeks ago. I don't know if it was a special Sunday car or just regular transport.




We saw this rather cheery bright red one at a classic car / autojumble event at Luzé. I liked the folding sunroof and definitely approved of the colour, although I noticed that one door looked a different shade from the rest. It looked in too good condition to be everyday transport.



We saw this collection of old and dead 2CV's out in the country somewhere. Rather sad, I thought. Although presumably handy if you needed a bit of one for something.


Then I spotted this one at Richelieu. Now you're talking. It had beautiful white leather seats and was nothing short of positively gorgeous. Definitely a Sunday best car.

A big thank you to Keith Eckstein of A Taste of Garlic for pointing out that this is not a 2CV, but a Dyane. (See comments.) I should have known !! A classy car will have a classy name. Being a woman, what would I ever know about any car except if I like the colour !!

(Now if it had been a Harley-Davidson, I would know exactly which model it was.)



A couple with a child were walking towards me as I was admiring it and snapping away. The man turned out to be the owner of the car. I complimented him on his classy vehicle and asked if he minded me taking photos. He didn't mind at all but was rather surprised when I asked if I could take his photo with it. Why not - it was his car. It sounded nice when he drove it away, too.

It was so gorgeous I thought I might have been converted. But no - I would still prefer a Renault 4. Maybe I just haven't seen the right 2CV yet.

July 19, 2010

A VERY QUIET HOLIDAY


The château in the evening light.

Our holiday at the beginning of June was really busy so we intended that our July trip would be much more relaxing. We had plans to do very little at all. In the end, that's exactly what we did because I was, as my mother would have said, "proper poorly".


Nick had just before returned from working in Mexico City for a week and soon afterwards he developed "man flu". In other words, a bad cold. He did have some very strange symptoms, not like a normal cold, and he was also very poorly, so we wondered if it was a mild type of Mexican flu, or swine flu as we should call it. Anyway, just before we set off for France he passed it on to me.

Leaving Portsmouth harbour.


We planned to leave at 3am, he in the car with Lulu, travelling via the tunnel, and me on my motorcycle by myself, taking the ferry from Portsmouth to Le Havre. (The reason for this is that the journey using the ferry is so much easier on the bike but we prefer to use the tunnel with the dog. We don't like the idea of leaving her in the car by herself for five hours. Someone we know who did this found that by the time they were asked to rejoin their vehicle on the car deck, their dog had gone to the toilet in the car and climbed over the seat to chew the steering wheel to bits because it was bored or possibly even frightened. Lovely!!)

The evening before I had a raging sore throat and felt awful. We considered changing our plans and travelling together but I was determined to get the bike to France so decided to travel separately and meet up at a services where the motorways converge, south of Rouen.





It was cool and drizzling when we set off in the early hours and I rode down to Portsmouth wearing long-sleeved t-shirt, jumper and fully lined waterproof jacket. I was perfectly comfortable. The ferry, the "Norman Spirit", was very quiet and I was able to snooze for a while. When we docked at Le Havre, I recieved a phone call from Nick to say he was already at the services and it was 31°C !! I hadn't noticed any change in temperature on the air-conditioned boat. I rapidly removed the jumper and the lining from my jacket and bungied them onto the bike. I passed the message on to a fellow motorcyclist as we prepared to disembark and word went round quickly, all the other riders removing clothes as fast as possible. Riding in hot weather can be really uncomfortable if you are over dressed.






As each day went by I felt worse and worse. Fortunately my appetite was still reasonable and we ate at one of our favourite restaurants in Descartes for lunch on Saturday. Then we had pizzas from the van in the village square in the evening.


On Sunday we went to the vide-grenier in St-Sulpice near Dangé-Saint-Romain. As always, it occupied the whole village. There was all the usual stuff for sale, the broken toys, worn-out boots and mismatched pieces of crockery. I personally find it difficult to spot the real bargains amongst all the rubbish but it was fun anyway. It was also very hot.





Nicole had left lovely flowers in the house for us when she called on Friday and Mme André had left us a little bunch of flowers first thing on Saturday morning. These cheered me up no end. For a day or two I was determined not to let something as trivial as a cold spoil my holiday and tried to keep lively. On Tuesday morning after breakfast I finally gave in and went back to bed for two days. The weather got hotter and hotter and there was talk of a "canicule".





Consequently there are fewer photos than usual from a week in Le Grand-Pressigny and the Harley never turned another wheel. But it was a lovely place to be when feeling poorly !!

July 17, 2010

THE VEGETABLES HAVE ARRIVED

One of the drawbacks of taking our summer holidays in the summer is that while we are away, our vegetables become just right for picking in the garden. All too often we get back to bolted lettuces, chewy beans and peas like bullets.

We have very little space for growing veg; only a very small piece of garden and lots of large pots. We don't have the luxury of a large vegetable plot or allotment.



We grow our potatoes in an old metal dustbin and a variety of other large pots, all with about three plants crammed into each, grown from seed potatoes.



This is the number of potatoes from one large pot with three plants in. This variety is called Rocket, a first early potato.



This year we seem to have a good crop of broad beans, very much a favourite of the house, and we have managed to get them before they became too big and chewy. We also got some peas while they were still reasonably small, sweet and tender.



Sometimes I wonder if it is worth the effort, this growing vegetables lark. It certainly isn't a money-saving exercise, the way we do it, more of a hobby. When I am out in the freezing cold, in early spring, potting on or pricking out the seedlings in my woolly hat, fingers blue and sore from the freezing and gritty compost, I think I must be mad.


Same again later in the spring, battling with the slugs, pigeons, rabbits and other pests. One year we got back from our May holiday to find a snail munching his way through the last carrot top of a whole row of carrots.


But every time I shell the first batch of peas and eat the first meal where the beans and potatoes were in the garden less than an hour earlier, I have no doubts at all. There's nothing like the flavour of home-grown vegetables, and knowing that it came from a little seed pushed into a bit of compost in the dark days of February or March.



This time we also have a good crop of redcurrants. Last July they were not ready when we left for France and by the time we got back the birds had eaten the lot. Luckily, this year we managed to beat the birds to it.



I am now for the first time in my life making redcurrant jelly, using Delia Smith's recipe.

(I'm keeping my fingers crossed that it will turn out ok.)





UPDATE

It worked out really well. It was dead easy to make, set perfectly and tastes lovely. I can't believe I have got to this age and never made jam before. I am now planning plum jam and blackberry jelly for later in the year.

July 15, 2010

CASSAGNES IN PICTURES - THE LAST POST




















On our last evening we ate out at a great little restaurant called Latour des Saveurs in a nearby village, Latour de France. Pete & Cyn do not eat out too often as they are vegetarians, and I am sure we all appreciate how difficult that can be in France. This restaurant had several vegetarian options on the menu, showing that some thought had gone into it rather than just offering a mushroom omelette. The food was as good as I have eaten anywhere in France.

July 13, 2010

CASSAGNES FLORA AND FAUNA

We are coming to an end of the Cassagnes series. We had a lovely time there with Pete and Cyn and it is so different from where we live in the Loire.

After our day exploring, while the men took a well-earned nap I went out and about with my camera. Cyn took me on a guided tour of the village.




There was hardly a soul about, at 5pm. This little girl was fascinated by Lulu and kept turning up on every other street corner on her bicycle. Her name was Sophie.



This cat was keeping a careful eye on Lulu, too.




The flowers around the village were at their best at this time of year. Later on it is difficult to keep plants going because it is so hot.





There were very pretty trees, too.



This chap was out by himself and not used to visitors like Lulu in the village. He came to say hello after a while but then ran off when she started jumping all over him, in typical silly young poodle fashion.










I spent almost a whole hour walking around the village and it was very quiet. It was warm and sunny with that beautiful golden evening light that we never get at home in England. But there were hardly any other people about. The tremontane was still blowing so maybe that keeps people indoors. Apart from Sophie we exchanged pleasantries with one person on foot and heard voices from the occasional window and from the boulangerie. A couple of cars passed by.
.

Cyn tells me that there are lots of feral cats in the village. Every so often a cull is organised to control the population. Cats without collars are shot or poisoned. It seemed so cruel and sad, looking at these cute little creatures, but no doubt a necessary solution to a big problem.


We also saw four of these, all obviously still in use although some in much better condition than others. Two beige, one red and one royal blue. I still have a hankering for one.

One day, perhaps.

(I wonder if they ever made them in lime green.)