Tag Archives: life in France

BBQ ribs and life in a haze

I was on the loose in town today sans glasses. I realised they weren’t on my nose as we were leaving, but Léo was driving so I didn’t think it would be too much of a problem. Also we were running late, and the whole ‘when and where did I last see them etc.’ thing would have been too boring and time-consuming. It would obviously be easier to wear them all the time, but as I’m short-sighted, shallow, vain and in denial, it’s never going to happen. Anyway, Léo is a 16-year-old know-all learner driver boy racer, so out-of-focus is definitely the way to go. Far less white-knuckle stress.

While Léo was having his French horn lesson, I went shopping. All things considered, I didn’t do too badly. I bought baby peppers instead of tomatoes, but you know, who cares?  And I had to ask the owner of the shop to tap in my credit card code but again, no big deal. I waved like a maniac across the shop at someone who didn’t know me from Adam, but she was very nice about it and we chatted for a bit. In hindsight I realise she maybe just felt sorry for me, but is hindsight always a good guide? Going in to the post office I misjudged the doorstep, which resulted in an expedient and slightly melodramatic head first entrance. I then ‘Madamed’ a Monsieur, although he didn’t seem too put out – he was obviously quite woke; it’s so last century to fixate on gender.

I went back to the car to wait for my chauffeur (I got into the right car after just one small blunder), and passed the time contemplating my seemingly smooth, almost Photoshopped, wrinkle-free forehead (I’m making myself sound like a simpleton/lunatic now). I concluded that forgetting your glasses is cheaper and more effective than botox, probably less painful too, although that might be open to debate, as my doorstubbed toe will attest. It can be quite comforting to not see things too clearly all the time – I’m not sure that an obsession for detail is necessarily healthy. Think big picture. All in all, blurred worked pretty well for me today.

These ribs are a bit time-consuming, but so worth it. I had given up making ribs because they didn’t seem to be available to buy. We have now found a great butcher who has them all the time. They’re really not particularly healthy, but in a way they are because they’re so delicious they make you happy. And anyway, moderation is the key.

Ingredients (serves 4)

For 4 racks of pork ribs (approx. 400g each)

For the marinade:

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon paprika

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 orange, juiced

1 tablespoon brown sugar

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

Combine the ingredients to form a runny paste in a food processor.

For the BBQ sauce:

1 onion, peeled

2 cloves of garlic, peeled

1 chilli, seeds removed

1 teaspoon fresh thyme

1 tablespoon fresh coriander

1 teaspoon chilli powder

50g brown sugar

2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

50ml tomato ketchup

Dash of Worcestershire sauce

1 teaspoon mustard

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Combine the ingredients to form a paste in a food processor.

Rub the marinade over the rib racks and leave in the fridge overnight. Preheat the oven to 125°C, place the ribs on a baking try and cook for 1½ hours. Remove from the oven and wrap the ribs in tin foil and cover with the sauce. Return to the oven for another hour. Open the tin foil wrapping and increase the oven temperature to 200°C for a further half hour.

 

 

 

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Smoked mackerel pâté and broken


We have broken our cleaning lady. Or to be more exact, the dogs have broken her. She’s never been their biggest fan; she believes that a dog’s place is outside and silent at all times. Personality and opinions, particularly dogmatic ones, should not be tolerated. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that this just isn’t how we roll with Hugo and Java. Or at least, it isn’t how Hugo and Java roll with us.

I do see that it must be frustrating for her, especially when all the dogs within a two kilometre radius rock up for a ‘social’ when she’s trying to hose down the floors. They seem to sense the optimal impact moment to put in an appearance. And, in fairness, I do always say that cleaning our house is a bit like mucking out a stable. Anyway, this morning the hounds outdid themselves. The mild weather meant that the windows were open and Java, terrified witless by the vacuum cleaner, kept jumping out of the window, spent just enough time outside to dirty her feet and returned into the house through the front door. Ad infinitum. Hugo, who had been invited (you don’t give Hugo orders; you make suggestions) to stay outside in a bid to reduce the carbon paw print, availed himself of the open window in the other direction to come back into the house (filthy paws and all) in order to launch a vicious assault on his long-standing nemesis, the hoover.

Happily, I wasn’t there this morning to witness this outrageous exhibition of doggie hooliganism. I did come back in time to be greeted by two manic, crack cocaine-smoking dogs and Luc administering medicinal Armagnac to treat the cleaning lady’s shattered nerves.

Ingredients (serves 6)

400g smoked mackerel, skin removed

1 ripe avocado

2 shallots, peeled

1 clove of garlic, peeled

Juice of 1 lemon

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 tablespoons horseradish

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and combine until smooth. Chill for at least two hours and serve with either crispy French bread or raw vegetables (carrots, celery, fennel…)

Kale crisps, obscenities and dog-shaped holes

The Tallish One (I had to rename The Tall One as The Noisy One is now a good 4cms taller) and I have decided that Bossy is a bad influence on animals and also, I suspect, small children. She and Noisy went to London last week and, while she was gone, everyone, even Java, fell into line. Relatively speaking of course. Even the horses were less tiresome than usual. Animals really do have a sixth sense for authority; The Tallish One has it, Bossy just doesn’t. She makes a mean kale crisp though, so I think we’re going to hang on to her for the moment.

Bossy hadn’t been on UK soil for more than half and hour before having an almighty ding-dong with a traffic warden (apparently something to do with her being a ‘toxic tyrannical tw@t’). So much so that the traffic warden ran after her yelling ‘don’t you dare walk away while I’m reprimanding you’. If you know Bossy, you can imagine how well that went down. The thing is, Bossy swears a lot. It’s actually one of the few things she’s really good at; I would probably go as far as to say she’s a Master of Blasphemy. She’s also got quite a talent for really pissing people off. Anyway, if you want to learn to eff and blind in English or French, Bossy’s your girl.

In other news, we found a Java-shaped hole in the wisteria canopy under Léo’s first-floor bedroom window, and a rather bemused Java shaking herself off on the ground beneath. I feel certain that Bossy must be to blame in some way – I’m just not sure how yet.

One thing is sure: kale is so full of goodness that if it could talk, it certainly wouldn’t swear. As a vegetable it is a bit of an overachiever with its protein, fibre, vitamins A, C, K and B vitamins. It also contains minerals – potassium, calcium and zinc as well as omega 3, lutein and zeaxanthin.

Ingredients

200g kale, rinsed and cut into strips, large stems removed

1 tablespoon olive oil

Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Espelette pepper or paprika

Preheat the oven to 150°C. Put the kale in a large bowl and add the oil. Massage it into the leaves, then toss with the seasoning. Spread out in a single layer on two large baking trays and bake for about 20 minutes, checking from time to time that it is cooking evenly. Leave to cool and eat!

Shitake mushrooms and furtive barbarians


It will soon be mushroom season, although for the moment it’s still too hot and dry here; Luc is on damp ground watch like a crazy Frenchman. Oh, hang on… I did find a lone, perfect cep yesterday though, which was grabbed from my hand and in a frying pan asphyxiating in olive oil and garlic before I was through the door. I never go foraging without my vicious, spiky walking poles, ostensibly to move away leaves without having to bend down, although really to maim greedy cep-stealing fingers. There’s something about looking for mushrooms (mushrooming?) that turns people into furtive barbarians. Bump into someone who is blatantly foraging and they become incredibly defensive: ‘Me? Mushrooms? Can’t stand the mouldy bastards! I’m just hanging out in the middle of the woods, catching a few rays and bonding with the slugs’.

Even armed with my lethal walking stick, I won’t be finding any shitake mushrooms around here; they grow wild in mountainous regions of Asia and absolutely nowhere else. Scientists have discovered a possible correlation between typhoon wind patterns and the scattering of shitake spores dispersed from one country to the other. The medicinal properties of shiitake mushrooms have been studied since the Ming Dynasty when Chinese elders considered the shitake to be the ‘elixir of the life’.

Shitakes are unique because they contain all eight essential amino acids. They are also a rich source of vitamin D, B vitamins and selenium and other minerals. They also contain linoleic acid which aids weight loss and builds muscle. It also has bone-building benefits, improves digestion, and reduces food allergies and sensitivities.

Shitake mushrooms contain beta-glucan, an immune booster and soluble dietary fibre that’s also found in barley, rye and oats. The lentinan they contain strengthens the immune system and helps to fight off disease and infection. Research suggests that shiitake mushrooms may help fight cancer cells and also help heal damage caused by anticancer treatments. The mushrooms have also been shown to induce apoptosis, the process of cell death. They also contain L-ergothioneine, a potent antioxidant with unique cell-protective properties.

Lastly, these wonderful mushrooms have been shown to have anti-vital, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties, effective against a wide range of mould, yeasts, and fungi. It would appear that they even have the ability to kill off the dangerous organisms without affecting the healthy organisms.

Gascon garbure and how to put a hen to bed

We’ve had issues with foxes lately. When I say ‘issues’, obviously I mean that the vicious, gluttonous bastards have been mistaking our hens for chicken McNuggets and snacking on them before breakfast. The hens used to sleep in the barn, which worked well because horses and hens are natural companions. Both being prey animals, I suppose they have a mutual understanding of what it is to be persecuted all day; I always imagined them spending their evenings having a good old moan about ill intentioned predators and the day’s run-ins and close shaves. Anyway, the remaining hens, understandably traumatised by Nuggetgate, have since been transferred to enclosed premises: The old bread oven. Frankly, if I were a hen, I’m not sure how comfortable I’d feel about drifting off next to the gaping metal mouth of a huge oven. Luckily though, they’re not the brightest and seem happy enough in their new home.

After a week or so of ‘training’ which involved haphazardly running around the fields at dusk with spades and horsewhips (us), the hens now understand that they should put themselves to bed in their new quarters and no longer in the horses’ barn. All of them, that is, except one. At bedtime she comes to sit resolutely on the boot room table squawking VERY loudly until Luc succumbs and carries her to bed. Just leave it to us to either acquire or create a noisily needy, attention-seeking, high maintenance hen…

How worried should I be about Luc’s apparently blissful expression?

This hearty soup is a typical peasant dish from Southern Gascony. The vegetables used depend on the season, and in the old days the meat used would have depended on what was to hand. The most luxurious version is made with confit of duck, which is what I usually use, although you could too make it with chicken. I love the fact that there is a certain amount of fat in the soup, because it means that the nutrients from the vegetables are more readily absorbed.

There are many recipes for garbure, but I adapted this one from Jeanne Strang’s recipe in ‘Goose Fat and Garlic’.

Ingredients (serves 6)

2 small leeks

250g potatoes

125g celery

4 carrots

125g turnips

1 large onion

4 cloves of garlic

250g white haricot beans (previously soaked if using dried)

250g salt belly of pork

1.25 litres water

0.5 litre white wine

bouquet garni

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon piment d’Espelette (or paprika)

1 Savoy cabbage

6 pieces of confit de canard

Chop all of the vegetables except the cabbage and dice the pork. Place the chopped vegetables, beans and pork in a large pot or casserole dish, cover with the water and wine and bring to the boil, then skim and add the bouquet garni and seasoning. You will need to adjust the salt depending on what meats you are using. Simmer over a low heat for two hours, then shred the cabbage and add to the pot along with the confit de canard. Cook for a further 30 minutes and serve with French bread. Bon appétit!

Trout with almonds and an eight-kilo water baby

As a discerning Frenchman-in-the-making, Léo has strong opinions about the taste, quality and provenance of the water he drinks. At lycée, he often plays football at lunchtime with his classmates and, after playing on Friday, they were thirsty and nipped to the supermarket where he spotted an eight-litre bottle of his preferred water on special offer. Although they were due back in class, he couldn’t resist, and he and his friends had to haul this vast bottle back over almost a kilometre and up several flights of stairs. The vat was treated like a new class member and given its own desk and chair and became quite the talking point, much to the teacher’s exasperation. Over the next couple of days, it accompanied them everywhere, including the canteen at lunchtime where it had its own place at the table. When Léo was telling me this story, I was reminded of an experiment where men were asked to carry a five-kilo bag of flour around with them all day, pretending it was a baby. They had to feed it, change its nappy, put it down to sleep and generally do their best not to kill it. So now I feel like the grandmother of a giant blue, intellectually precocious water baby called Volvic…

In other news, I think that Java, who couldn’t be accused of intellectual precociousness,  might need reading glasses. Either that or she’s wilfully disobedient, which I’m sure can’t be the case. Léo says a lobotomy is the only answer, but in view of the whole big blue water baby paternity thing, I’m not sure his opinion’s valid.

We are eating more trout and less salmon these days because, although I love wild salmon, it’s not always easy to find and is also expensive. Farmed salmon has three times more fat than the wild variety and a large proportion of this fat is the pro-inflammatory Omega 6, as opposed to the more beneficial Omega 3 fatty acid . It is the couch potato of fish and the quality of its fat speaks volumes.

Ingredients (serves 2)

100g salted butter

2 tablespoons fresh chives, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

1 tablespoon lemon juice

2 whole trout, cleaned and gutted

Sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper

1 teaspoon paprika

80g flaked almonds

Preheat the oven to 180°C. Melt half of the butter and combine with the fresh herbs and lemon juice. Cover the trout generously and then set into a baking dish and add the seasoning. Bake for about 25 minutes or until the fish crumbles when prodded with a fork. Melt the remains of the butter and gently fry the flaked almonds until golden brown. Pour over the cooked fish and serve.

Buckwheat apple cake (gf) and a tale of two photos

First of all, I’d like to wish everyone a very happy new year. I know a number of people who had a tough 2017, so I wish them all the best for 2018. I have made only a couple of new year resolutions (it’s hard to improve on perfection): to be nicer to Java, and especially more understanding and tolerant of her limitations, which are apparently inexhaustible. And to make fewer catty (doggy?) comments about Bossy in my blog posts. Believe me when I say that it’s tough on both counts.

Bossy showed me these photographs this morning. The first photo shows (left to right) Wookie, Frank and Baby Cecil, and the second me and Java. Feel free to admire our handiwork.

Bossy said that Java and I came off very badly when the photos were compared, and that we should be ashamed of ourselves. She went on to add that at least Baby Cecil had the grace to look contrite, although as all we’re showing the camera is our bottoms it’s anyone’s guess as to our expressions. And the other two dogs, Wookie and Frank, look thoroughly shocked and disapproving, but in an indulgent, unpatronising way. She said this rather pointedly – I’m not sure what she was getting at.

Anyway, I think Bossy’s been confusing ‘contrite’ and ‘really pissed off at having been caught red-pawed’.  She said that Baby Cecil probably had the excuse that he was teething and asked me what our excuse for The Great Cushion Massacre was. She then started to rant about the fact that we take advantage of her good nature (disorganised sloppiness more like) and that, contrary to popular belief, she’s not running a dog borstal, which I thought was a bit far-fetched, even coming from her.

I don’t buy the ‘teething’ excuse for a moment; Baby Cecil looks like a bit of a tinker to me. An adorable tinker, but a tinker nonetheless. Wookie and Frank are wearing the most disapproving expressions I have ever seen on dogs. In fact, unless you’re in the habit of frequenting particularly uptight spinster librarians, you rarely even see such disapproving expressions on humans. One wonders if there isn’t a slight hint of hypocrisy. After all, they could have warned Baby Cecil that he ran the risk of forfeiting his flavour of the month badge.

And as for Java and me, we were simply trying to help sort the house out a bit. I recently read a very enlightening book about feng shui which said that, to achieve a good yin-yang balance, you shouldn’t have too many cushions lying around. Quite honestly, Bossy should have thanked us, not scolded us. She can be very short-sighted sometimes.

Thank you Hugo for your take on these revealing photos. And good luck with your ‘resolutions’ – it looks as if you’re off to a shaky start.

I got the recipe for this cake from the mother of a friend of Léo’s who made it for lunch after a volleyball match. It was meant to be for the whole team, but Léo devoured the lot in one fell swoop.

Ingredients (serves 8 normal people, or 1 greedy volleyball player)

3 eggs, beaten

100g olive oil

80g cane sugar

100g buckwheat flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 teaspoon vanilla essence

6 apples, peeled and diced.

Preheat the oven to 180°C and prepare a medium-sized loaf tin. Beat the eggs, olive oil and cane sugar together until thick and smooth. Gently fold in the flour, baking powder and bicarbonate soda. Finally stir in the diced apples vanilla essence and transfer the mixture to the greased tin. Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer poked into the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool before serving.