“Le Tuaille de Cochon” – Part 1


I have now lived in the south west of France for nigh on fourteen years, and have made many French friends here in Albi. Most of the good times I have shared with them revolve around food or drink – an invitation to ‘boire un apéro’, ‘faire un barbecue’, or simply ‘boire le café.

But one invitation that made me feel I had really become ‘une Albigeoise’ was an invitation to the annual family pig kill – “le Tuaille de Cochon”. Continue reading ““Le Tuaille de Cochon” – Part 1″

In Pursuit of Sanguine Pleasures

Beautiful blood oranges in a bowl
Beautiful blood oranges

One of the pleasures of cooking is giving pleasure to other people, and sometimes that means giving pleasure to other people’s taste buds at the expense of your own.

You see, I’m not really a ‘pudding’ person and have always had a set of savoury taste buds – but cooking for my three boys and husband, plus friends who came down to Wales for country weekends, meant that over the years I developed a repertoire of classic British puddings in order to please family and friends. Continue reading “In Pursuit of Sanguine Pleasures”

A Bit of a Porker

I am not a great pork fan. It used to work itself into my diet on only three occasions. A twice a year or so roast for Sunday lunch (where for me the crackling was always the main attraction), weekend bacon butties, and sausages – proper British sausages, 40% or so of minced pork and a fair amount of fat, mixed with bread or rusk, herbs and seasoning. I find it difficult to like their meatier denser European cousins, French saucisson or German bratwurst, encased as they are in a thicker skin that sometimes require boiling. Continue reading “A Bit of a Porker”

Not Mincing my Words about Chilli

To write this now in the 21st century feels like the start of a Victorian novel; to say that I was given an allowance by my first husband, for housekeeping and my own personal expenditure. But it was so. I managed to work in Ghana, our first posting abroad, but by the time we reached Zambia, two years later, their government had brought in a moratorium on accompanying expatriate wives working. Like many before me, bored with few other options, I got pregnant, learnt to cook and got to grips with how to stretch a small budget. My financial acumen was virtually nonexistent, despite having been the first female management trainee with an international bank, so was my knowledge about choosing cheap cuts of meat and what to do with them. Continue reading “Not Mincing my Words about Chilli”

A Question of Taste

It’s half term week and Grandson no.1 has come to stay. The north wind has blown in and a damp artic chill is hanging over London. Our visits to the local park are therefore curtailed as, no matter how many layers I wear, I am shivering and my fingers are turning a whiter shade of pale.  Neither Boy nor Dog feel the cold and are reluctant insiders unless given something to do. We retreat to the warmth of the kitchen and bake. Continue reading “A Question of Taste”

Do Not Trifle with a Truffle

Ingredients for an 'Omelette au Truffes'
Ingredients for an ‘Omelette au Truffes’

I am a truffle virgin.

The closest I’ve got to cooking with truffles was a recipe for Cauliflower Soup by John Burton-Race which demanded – or rather, insisted – on a swirl of truffle oil in the soup just before serving. He swore this made all the difference, so I splashed out on a very expensive small bottle of truffle oil. He was right. That ribbon of golden perfumed oil whisked through the creamy cauliflower soup worked magic. My  guests asked me what had I done to make the soup taste so delicious?

But experimenting with truffle oil was as far as I ever got back in the UK – truffles aren’t exactly two a penny on the Welsh Borders. So last week, when I came across some truffle sellers in Albi Market promoting a Fete des Truffes at the nearby village of Villeneuve-sur-Vere the following Sunday, I knew I had to go. Continue reading “Do Not Trifle with a Truffle”

Emergency Rations

As an eternal optimist I’m not risk adverse, but more of a calculated risk taker. In the late 90s I was offered a year’s assignment in Northern California. I jumped at the chance. It was America, what could be risky about that?  There was much muttering from my two younger daughters because they were being uprooted from friends and family, but the muttering didn’t last long as they soon adapted to the world of yellow school buses, western saddle riding and friends living on ranches. It wasn’t until the day before we left London that the husband of a friend professed his shock on hearing that I was planning to take the children to live on the San Andreas fault line. First, I had heard about it. The wooden deck house in Portola Valley we were renting was cute, airy and situated in a beautiful valley with ten other houses.  Sour grapes, I thought, until my children started to return home from school with stories of regular earthquake drills and the fact that other parents kept store cupboards stocked with emergency rations. The 1989 earthquake that had rocketed the Bay Area had been a lesson in preparedness for all. Continue reading “Emergency Rations”

Shaken, not Stirred – or Stirred, not Shaken?

The cocktail kit
The cocktail kit

My father used to tell me that I was born just in time for cocktails – six o’ clock in the evening. In Kenya, the sun went down every day on the dot at six and my parents would sit out on the verandah drinking ‘sundowners’ – gin and tonic (a colonial staple), or a variety of cocktails, Gin Slings, Martinis, or just ‘brandy with a splash’. When we ended up in Buckinghamshire, my parents ‘cocktail’ habits became far more mundane and British – a whisky with water for my father, a sherry for my mother. Continue reading “Shaken, not Stirred – or Stirred, not Shaken?”

“Oh, Lardy, Lardy” in praise of fat

It’s cold. It may not have snowed here in London but when the sun disappears in the late afternoon, the chill ices into your bones. Middle daughter and I suffer from bad circulation that materialises in white fingertips when the temperature drops below 10C and white toes when it hits minus figures. Thawing is mildly painful as the extremities turn bruising blue before returning to pink. Middle daughter doesn’t do hot either. She is a temperate child. The family GP, a pragmatist at the best of times, diagnosed a possible mild form of Raynaud’s syndrome where the arteries spasm and blood flow is reduced. His recommendation is that if I didn’t want surgery to cut the nerves in the back of my neck, then I should wear gloves. I do, regularly. Continue reading ““Oh, Lardy, Lardy” in praise of fat”

Tales of Blood Sausage, Civil War, and Refugees – a Spanish winter stew

The village of Gualchos, Andalucia in Spain
The village of Gualchos, Andalucia in Spain

Thirty-three years ago this month I had clocked up five years working for the BBC on a ‘rolling’ annual contract as a researcher and director when my boss decided he would offer me a permanent contract. My reaction surprised us both – I promptly handed in my resignation! The very thought of a ‘job for life’ made me feel panicked and claustrophobic. I needed ‘time out’. Having saved some money, I headed south to Andalucía in Spain, with enough funds to survive for three months and the vague idea of writing a novel. Continue reading “Tales of Blood Sausage, Civil War, and Refugees – a Spanish winter stew”