Going to the market in France – especially here in the South West – involves taking a large basket and an equally large amount of patience. Things move slowly, people stop mid-order to ‘faire le bise’ to passing friends, stallholders exchange gossip, and quite often, both stallholder and buyer get involved in a serious discussion on how best to cook ‘les aiguillettes de canard’ or the ‘filet de bar’ or ‘ceps’. In which case, patience is essential! Continue reading ““Un peu d’ail, un peu de persil” – keep it simple”
A picnic is ‘an occasion when a packed meal is eaten in an outside setting’ according to the Oxford English Dictionary.
The British enthusiasm for picnics is truly the triumph of hope over experience, be it parked up in a lay-by, surrounded by wind breaks on a stony beach, or on rare occasions, lying in long grass contemplating the Magritte clouds passing by overhead in a pool of blue sky. Continue reading “A Tale of Two Picnics”
My maternal grandmother (Nanna) was born in the 1890’s, and lived through two world wars with their accompanying ration books and shortages of food. When I was born, partial rationing was still in force and ‘frugality’ was well entrenched in Nanna’s mortal soul. Blessings had to be counted – stockings were mended, collars turned, and clean underwear always had to be worn in case you were run over by a bus. This frugality didn’t stop at the kitchen door. Waste was not to be tolerated. One of my kitchen duties was to scrape the cake mix out of the bowl with a teaspoon, on a promise of the last lick. Every last spoonful, I was told, was enough cake to feed a starving African child. We didn’t own a spatula, so I was amused to read in Bee Wilson’s ‘Consider the Fork’, that rubber spatulas were once referred to as ‘child cheaters’, for their knack of removing every last gram of batter. Nanna would have approved of that. Continue reading “Rationed Chicken – the three meal bird”
I have eaten tortilla, that ubiquitous Spanish dish made from eggs, onions, and potatoes, hundreds of times in my life. Some were good but a lot were bad, spoiled by being made with pre-cooked potatoes, or too much potato. Like all the simplest dishes, especially the eggy ones like scrambled eggs and omelettes, cooking a good tortilla depends on the method you use. I learned to make tortillas thanks to my first husband who had studied Spanish and spent a year teaching in Galicia. To my mind, his recipe is the best I have come across and it’s one of the few things I still have from my first short-lived marriage… Continue reading “Tortilla De Patatas – memories of Andalucia”
My vegetable growing career began in Leipzig, Eastern Germany. Man and I lived in a converted leather factory, whose apartments had balconies suspended over the Elstermühlgraben – an old mill stream. We lived and barbecued on this 1 metre by 5 metre space from late April to early October. To protect our privacy from neighbours intrigued by our foreign cooking smells, I decided to grow window boxes full of climbing vegetables. Now back in urban London, I grow vegetables on a sunny south facing terrace, utilising a combination of wooden troughs, long window boxes and a variety of pots.
Fiona, on the other hand, has had at least two proper gardens. One in the Welsh Borders, full of raspberries, lettuces, and beans neatly in rows, with chickens grubbing around and probably the odd Peter Rabbit nibbling away. The other was on a French hillside with gnarled and garrulous farming neighbours clucking over the fence at her very English attempts to grow vegetables in their native soil. Continue reading “Grow What You Eat – tales from the vegetable plot”
Nearly half a century ago, I ate the most simple of chocolate puddings. The pudding itself was delicious but what really captured my imagination was what it was served in – a tiny white pot with its own lid, decorated with gold trim. It was 19th century porcelain and part of a set of eight little pots with a matching porcelain tray. Nicole, my French friend who had cooked the pudding, told me they were called “petit pots de crème au chocolat” and were made specifically for ‘crème au chocolat’. Continue reading “Petits Pots de Creme au Chocolat – memories of summers on the Normandy coast”
It’s the middle of May. In London the sun makes a rare appearance and then disappears off again behind thick white cloud to be replaced by soft spring rain. Man disappears as well, off to the sunnier climes of East Africa for six weeks, leaving Dog disorientated and searching the house for the missing part of his pack. Dog is not the only one a bit lost. After forty years of planning meals for a full house of four children and four (successive) partners, I am not used to cooking for one, never mind eating on my own. Continue reading “The Art Of Eating Solo”
Spring time is the season for ‘respounchous’ here in the south west of France. There were a few bunches of them for sale in the market last Saturday but it only takes an hour or two of foraging in the wooded lanes to gather enough respounchous for a light lunch. So, in need of a break from my computer, I decided to go hunting for respounchous… Continue reading “Foraging In Occitanie – wild green weeds”
After nearly twenty years of travelling that took my parents from post-war Germany via colonial East Africa to New Zealand, my family finally put down roots in a large ramshackle farmhouse in Buckinghamshire, surrounded by barns, old pigsties, and a huge overgrown garden. When we moved in – it was the summer of ’68 – the flower beds were rampant with nettles and bindweed except for one, which was filled with the long feathery fronds of summer asparagus plants gone to seed.
I had never seen an asparagus plant, let alone tasted asparagus, but it became one of our favourite spring vegetables. My younger sister and I were fascinated by the curious smell asparagus gave to our pee after eating it, but that didn’t put us off – it was just too delicious! My mother would cook the freshly-picked asparagus in the wire baskets of her pressure cooker (without the lid!) and we’d eat them with a simple mix of butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Perfection! Or so I thought – until, in my late teens, I ate asparagus served with Hollandaise sauce in France. To this day, it remains one of my favourite ways to serve asparagus.
What a week! Politically I mean. Are you as exhausted by politics as I am? Theresa May calls a snap General Election in the UK, leaving many people not knowing who they will vote for. And by the time this post is published, the French will be going to the polls to vote for their next President. There doesn’t seem to be a clear winner from any of their parties, so the French are in for a cliff hanger until May 7th. Anyway, with this political and meteorological chill in the air on both sides of the Channel, my thoughts turn to comfort food and going back to my roots. Continue reading “Comfort Food – turning to one’s roots”