September 30, 2010

I'LL HAVE A PINT OF WHATEVER SHE'S ON

I have just watched the first programme in Nigella Lawson's new TV series "Kitchen" and feel compelled to say something.


Photograph courtesy of Telegraph.co.uk


God bless that woman.
.
She gives all us ladies with a penchant for indulgence and consequently less than sylph-like figures hope and encouragement. The fact that her language is so completely over the top in flowery flirtiness is forgiven.
.
This evening's programme would have left Nick drooling if he had been here to see it. The poor man is currently sweltering in 40°C in the Arizona desert somewhere near Las Vegas, for work.
.
Luckily, being a loving and adoring wife of the most considerate type, I have recorded it for him.
.
Her recipes are good, too. I have recently made jam from her new book and my signature cake is her chocolate Guinness cake. Quite frankly, if all her recipes turned out as complete sludge I would still think she's a star. Anyone who gives plumptiousness and cooking that much sex appeal deserves a medal.

September 28, 2010

CATERPILLAR UPDATE

Earlier in the year I wrote here about our encounter with processional caterpillars in Le Grand-Pressigny. Since then some measures have been taken to control the population of these creatures. They are obviously seen as rather a nuisance.



Right next to the place where we saw them at Easter, there is now this poster illustrating what the problem is and what is being done about it.
.
Sacs of some fluid that attracts the male moths now hang from the trees where the empty nests still are. These sacs will be there from June to October and the idea is that the male moths are trapped, reducing their numbers.



When we were here in April, this nest was literally dripping with caterpillars. I'll let you know what happens next year !

September 22, 2010

HOLIDAY ROMANCE


Scarecrows on a wall near Descartes.

September 19, 2010

TRAVEL DIARY

I have written before about our mode of travel to our little house in France. Generally it takes about 12 hours door-to-door by car, 9 hours of which are actually spent on the road, the rest of the time being taken up by stops to stretch our legs, have a bite to eat, or waiting to board the train .


Crossing the Queen Elizabeth II bridge at Dartford at 6am.


Lately we have favoured getting up very early and driving to Eurotunnel at Folkestone without a stop, or with just one stop if needed. In August this worked very well. We got up at 3 am and were on the road within the hour, having packed the car the previous evening. I made a flask of coffee with the remains of our milk, stashed a large bag of sandwiches in the cool bag, disposed of the last few items in the fridge and away we went.


Boarding the train at 7.30 am.


The weather was cool and drizzly but as it was Saturday morning we had a clear run and arrived at Folkestone early. Luckily there were spaces on the next train and we made the crossing 40 minutes earlier than the time we had booked.



I am always impressed with Eurotunnel. So far, we have made dozens of crossings and rarely have we been delayed. Even when they are phenomenally busy, the staff are polite, helpful and friendly. I can really recommend them.



Stretching our legs at 9.15 am in Northern France.


We were in France by 9.00 am and it was still cool and dull but we had a short break at one of the first services beyond Calais. We have used this stop several times as there is a large field next to the filling station where we can let Lulu off the lead and she can have a good run around. We enjoyed some sandwiches and hot coffee from the flask and after half an hour we were back on the road.


Mayhem on the motorway


By 10.00 am we knew we were in trouble. There was a massive traffic jam on the motorway at Le Touquet. Traffic going north was at a standstill for miles. We hit the back of the queue going south soon afterwards as we got near to our exit at Abbeville. This was most unusual. Normally there are no hold-ups and the roads are quiet. We did the same journey on the same Saturday last year so what was the problem?


Then we remembered. Last year we had travelled through the night, arriving at Le Grand-Pressigny at 8.30 am, thereby missing any traffic completely. This year we were in the thick of it, travelling on one of the busiest weekends of the year for holday traffic. A high proportion of the cars had UK plates.


So we decided to leave the motorway and do what we used to do when we travelled everywhere by motorcycle. We went the pretty way.



Taking a break near Vendôme at 3.00 pm. It was 34°C.


We bipassed Rouen and went through Les Andelys, Evreux, Dreux, Chartres and rejoined the motorway just north of Tours. It was a long day. We arrived chez nous at 5.30 pm, two hours later than we had intended. But we had saved more than 30 euros in toll charges and had seen bits of France that we loved and had explored many times before. Interestingly, the journey was also four miles shorter. In years gone by we would have made the journey over two days on the bikes, stopping somewhere to camp for the night or treating ourselves to the luxury of a hotel room, a bath and a good dinner.


We did our usual shop for essentials at SuperU in Descartes, called at the butcher in Le Grand-Pessigny for some meat and the boulangerie for some bread. The temperature was 34°C.
We were all so happy to be back. The sun was shining and it was so lovely and warm.
Just before our holiday we had been very busy at work and at home, getting the house ready for the decorator to move in while we were away. It was a huge effort and we were more than ready for a relaxing holiday.



Lulu deserved a bit of her favourite St Maure cheese after such a long day.

.

The house was in great shape. Alex and Nicole had made sure the garden was at its best. Nick decided to barbecue the chops and chipolatas from the butcher and we really enjoyed our first holiday meal. We sat on our little terrace until it was dark. The swifts and swallows entertained us and when they went to bed the bats came out for a while and did the same.

We were not too late to bed. On the one hand we could have sat for hours into the night, enjoying the warmth, the peace and quiet and the prospect of two whole weeks of relaxation. On the other hand, the journey had taken its toll. It was two hours longer than usual because of our detour and we were exhausted. Except for Lulu, who had slept most of the way. Soon after the church bells had chimed ten o'clock, we took Lulu up the hill for her last walk then went to bed.

.

Moonlight over our garden. The calm before the storm.

At 4.00 am we were woken up by the most amazing thunder storm. For a whole hour the noise was incredible. Lulu had been sleeping downstairs and usually thunder doesn't bother her but after one particularly loud bang she shot upstairs and whimpered outside our room, asking to be let in. We read in the local paper a couple of days later that some buildings in Le Petit-Pressigny had been damaged during the storm.

The next day, the weather had changed. It was much cooler, a mere 20°C. It started raining as we set off for the market in Descartes. But we really didn't care, we were on holiday.

September 17, 2010

TALKING OF TOMATOES

That's what everybody seems to be doing at the moment. We had no success in growing them at home in the UK until we got our greenhouse two years ago. Now we get loads of them.




We usually buy a selection of tomato plants, including some "novelty" varieties. Last year Nicole gave us some "black tomato" plants. They turned out to be delicious cherry tomatoes and the skins were very dark burgundy flecked with green. We couldn't see anything exactly the same when we were buying plants this year but we spotted the variety on the left of the picture, thinking they would be similar, only bigger. They have turned out to be rather a disappointment. Most of the fruit were inedible, being rotted at the flower end and the good ones had a very insipid flavour.



The black pepper was another fun purchase. The skins are glossy black and inside we found .... a green pepper. Well fancy that !! And very tasty they are, too. We also have zillions of chillies coming on.


Growing vegetables is something we do for fun, not because we depend on them in order to eat. Which is lucky because we have mixed success but everything that turns out edible is absolutely gorgeous.


Smile please !!

September 13, 2010

OF GIFTS OF FOOD AND POST BOXES


This is some of the food we received as gifts whilst we were chez nous in August.
.
The big green pumpkin came from Mme André. She said it was a "courgette". The patty pan squashes came from Walt and Ken. The tomatoes were from Barrie.
.
There were other gifts that I forgot to photograph. Simon and Susan left a large jar of home-made plum jam on top of our post box for us. Mme André also gave us a bag of windfall apples from the trees near the château, and some haricot verts from her brother's allotment. Except that they were not verts, they were jaunes and ready-trimmed. And very nice, too. Nicole brought a home-made cheese and tomato tart to our little cupcake party. (Did I hear her say it was made with some of Barrie's tomatoes?)
.
Isn't that great?
.
Here's an interesting fact about post boxes. Apparently the reason why we were required to get one of the regulation post boxes when we first got the house is that the post-ladies (and gentlemen, I assume, although I have only ever seen ladies), have a master key that can open every post box. This means that larger items can be delivered even if they don't fit through the opening, so long as they are small enough to fit in the box.
.
What a good idea. I received a book in our post box earlier this year and it wasn't until I had taken all the wrapping off that I wondered how it got into the box. Now I know. Thank you Susan, for enlightening us.

September 8, 2010

HOLIDAY BAKING

Earlier this summer, I was much inspired by and somewhat in awe of Jack's cupcakes. So I decided that whilst on holiday I would have a go at making some of my own.

In reality, cupcakes are really just buns. I have made zillions of these in the past (although not so many lately). Butterfly buns, currant buns and so on. Cupcakes are basically buns with attitude. In other words, lots of icing.

I invested in some basic equipment; an icing nozzle, some icing bags, a huge box of icing sugar and a variety of decorations. Then I enlisted help.




The cupcake experts, Amélie and Isabella.



I cheated slightly by buying cake mix for the basic cupcakes. I know this is not the done thing but .... I did it anyway. Just out of interest, the McDougalls mix was far superior to the Sainsbury's own brand. I know this because, having made a total of 30 cakes, I tried a couple for myself, just in case they were inedible. They were OK but the McD one was best.





I bought a variety of decorations; gummy bears, Rolos, wafer daisies, chopped nuts, fudge and marshmallow pieces, glimmer sugar, edible glitter and blackberries collected from behind the château.




Amélie helped to sift the icing sugar. This involved tipping lots of sugar into a sieve and then shaking the sieve violently until most of the sugar settled into a bowl. After the icing sugar fog in the kitchen had cleared, we could then get on with the decorating of the buns (sorry, cupcakes!).



I made some buttercream icing and flavoured half of it with cocoa powder to make chocolate icing. The two experts took it in turns to pipe the icing on the cakes and add the decorations. The results were spectacular.




We produced 28 cupcakes (having sacrificed two for quality control previously) and they were all different.




Isabella and Amélie selected the two they thought the best to present to my neighbour, Mme André. She was delighted with them. (Who wouldn't be?)





The rest were demolished by me and Nick, Alex and Nicole, Barrie, and of course Isabella and Amélie. All washed down with some Loire Valley bubbly. A perfect evening.

September 6, 2010

TIME OUT


We have just returned from a great holiday in our little house. I have lots of pictures and lots to tell. We had a brilliant time.
.
However, while we were away, decorating work was done on our house. Sadly, whilst most of it looks superb, the wooden floor, which simply needed sanding and re-sealing, looks horrible. It will have to be re-done, somehow. If that's not possible, we will need a new floor.
.
Trouble at t'mill, as usual. Nothing is ever straightforward, is it? I was hoping to spend the next week cleaning up and putting all our furniture back where it belongs. Instead, the cleaning will have to wait and the furniture remains spread all over the house and garage until something can be done about the floor. The blog will have to be on hold for a while but I will post a few pictures to keep you going.
.
Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

September 5, 2010

JUST A COUPLE OF PHOTOS



In the square at Richelieu


September 2, 2010

JUST A PHOTO


Deceptively spacious ?