Food Magpie and Duck Bones

I am wondering if I should change my blog to Food Magpie in France?

Like many other people, I apply my own experience to my cooking…making the most of ingredients where I am,  maybe applying them in a slightly different way…or taking particular techniques and adapting to different ingredients.  For example, cassoulet….I suppose I could wax poetic about that dish for ages, but using that as starting point and bringing in my food experience:   black beans instead of the traditional white haricot beans, short rib instead of duck confit, chorizo instead of Toulouse sausage…..and then sneak in a bit of ancho chili and toasted cumin.  No longer cassoulet of course, but still something very good.   Alternatively, take local ingredients and put them in other recipes- duck confit and Cabécou (local goats cheese) lasagne anyone?

And of course, I very thoroughly embrace the full local food traditions….and love to learn the history and discover ‘new’ dishes.  I was recently told about the tradition of ‘duck bones’. I am still not entirely sure, but here it goes.  In this area most ducks are ‘fat ducks’ and are raised for their pieces….liver (foie gras) breast (magret) leg-thigh (for confit) neck (cou farci…kind of a sausage, but different, and yummy), gizzards for salads and general munching.  The rest of the meat is used for things like rillettes and friton (chunky bits you get either as a pâté kind of dish or if you need something a bit naughty – fried, think pork scratchings taken to a whole new level). Oddly – you don’t often see a whole duck for roasting or ‘non confit’ bits of duck to cook.  So – in the French spirit of using everything, the last remaining bits are ‘the bones’, and I have been told these are very very good.  I think I am supposed to go to my butcher and ask for ‘des os de canard’ and then I get a pile of bones…either ready to roast or already roasted.  Then you eat them…which I believe means suck all the remaining meat off the roasted bones.  I’ll see how that goes, sounds good to me.

Budget, breaking bad brain habits and…breathe

The featured image of cheese doesn’t really have anything to do with this post- it is just there because I am ‘grateful’ to live in a country that has an endless supply of delicious cheese. 🙂

OK, two things to start:

  1. For reasons I won’t detail because I am trying to be more of a positive person- about 20% of our total funds have been “lost”. This includes what was to have been our ‘budget cushion’ and any emergency funds. (ouch)
  2. Whatever your renovation budget and timeline – double them. (ouch again)

That pretty much covers the budget, which has sort of been giving me heart palpitations.  BUT we are moving forward and determined to find other avenues of income to fill that gap. As the saying goes, c’est la vie.

Which brings me to ‘breaking bad brain habits’.  Just like developing general bad habits (like smoking, biting your nails or over-filling the rubbish bin…OK, that last one might be debate-able) we can build bad ‘emotional response’ habits. I was recently reading specifically about complaining…and how it is a seemingly easy way to deal with challenges/barriers/problems – but it becomes a habitual negative response. One suggestion to try and break the negative habit is every time you complain pause and remind yourself of something be grateful for.  So it might work like this:

  1. Complain: Grrr, X company is really annoying me by screwing up my account so I can’t watch Game of Thrones.
  2. Pause – avoid going into an overactive tirade about being denied the opportunity to cheer on the dragon chick.
  3. Shift thought – well, since I can’t watch GoT, I have the opportunity to catch up on Samantha Bee/John Oliver/Stephen Colbert – and laugh my ass off instead, and I am grateful there are people in this world who make me laugh.
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I am grateful my dog recognises the Christmas tree is indoors and doesn’t feel the urge to pee on it (so far).

Yes- I realise that is a bit simplistic and my ‘gratefuls’ lately have been a bit more philosophical…more about having an opportunity to chase a dream, meet wonderful new people and live in a beautiful place.  I think you get the point.  Being negative is easy but it sucks your energy in the long run and you don’t get much done, and I have an ever-growing list of fun things I want to be doing so I need that energy; things like-  make marshmallows, bake Christmas cookies, try my hand at a terrine, plan a vegetable garden, find a pig breeder, research chicken breeds…..find out where the hell my carte de sejour is….

Now- breathe!

Learning a new language…and I think it is Noël time!

And no I am not referring to French but rather ‘build-speak’.  I have a French-English dictionary of building terms, which is very helpful- but it seems more and more when I look up a word I don’t even know the English meaning.

So things like “plaque de plâtre ignifugée” (fireproofed plasterboard)  and “pieux battus en fonte ductile” (driven piles in ductile iron) are becoming part of my new vocabulary.

Each day I have to get my head around a new set of terms…masonry, plumbing, electrical, gardening, and swimming pool engineering (don’t ask…it is sliding down the hill apparently and requires big heavy machinery to shore up the foundations to keep it in place – it will be absolutely lovely when it is finished, and practically brand new).

For all of this renovation fun – a very very important word I need to focus on is ‘patience’. This is clearly what is required when doing renovations in any country, but I think even more so here in rural France. As I have noted before, things here move at a very different pace than in London.  Which, I keep reminding myself, is why we moved here…  There has been a lot of talking, quotes for work, coffees, visiting places, meeting the ‘artisans’, touring the local window manufacturing studio (which was really interesting!) and stone yard. What there hasn’t been a lot of is actual work.

In the meantime, Christmas is coming, so time to get out the baubles!  …and a few key Noël words:

  • Sapin – Christmas Tree
  • Sucres d’orge – Candy Cane
  • Bonnhomme pain d’épice – Gingerbread Man
  • Santon – Christmas crib/nativity figure (from Provence)
  • Réveillon – the big Christmas meal- eaten on Christmas eve.  Hmmm, we may have to have two big meals then 😉

And I am looking forward to getting stocked up for the serious indulgence in France that is Christmas (seems like a lot of fizz, lobster, oysters and foie gras are being sold right now)….and looking forward to adding a few ‘new’ traditions to my current mix of American, English and German.  So bring on the Christmas stockings, Christmas carols, advent calendars, tinsel and Glühwein!

Green soup, with a variation for creating ‘stinky pee’

So…Katherine did this lovely illustration for asparagus, and while it isn’t in season for all of us around the world right now, it is one of my favourite vegetables (that wasn’t always the case) so any excuse.  This is a recipe for a really simple, tasty, green soup and I provide a variation with asparagus or roasted celery (stay with me here…it is quite yummy).

One conundrum with asparagus is the ‘stinky pee’ issue…which isn’t stinky for everyone There is conflicting evidence on whether for some people the pee doesn’t actually stink, or some people just can’t smell it.  You could do the experiment at home if you know people that claim they do and don’t have stinky pee, but I am guessing the reason this is still a conundrum is not many people are willing to ‘smell’ other people’s pee.

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Asparagus vs Marge Simpson who has the better hair

OK, on that delicious note, and without further ado – get out your greens and make this simple soup!

  • 250g or celery, roughly chopped or the same quantity asparagus, just snapped to remove the woody bit (I imagine this could also work with some Swiss chard or any other substantial green vegetable)
  • 2 potatoes (around 350-400g) – washed and cut into about ¼ to ½ inch cubes – I don’t bother to peel them
  • 1 litre chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 1 brown/yellow onion – sliced (not too thin)
  • a couple handfuls of fresh spinach (well washed)

Toppings

  • Sour cream
  • Toasted sunflower seeds

Let’s do it – heat up a little olive or other oil in a pan over a medium heat, put your onions in , turn down the heat a little bit, put the lid on and let them slowly cook until they become a light golden colour, which should take 30 to 45 minutes- this is key, you want lovely golden onions to give a foundation of flavour for this simple soup. Check the onions every 10-15 minutes to make sure they aren’t browning. While your onions are cooking put your roughly chopped celery or asparagus with the potatoes in to a roasting dish, toss them with a little bit of olive oil to just coat them and roast for 30 minutes at 200C. Conveniently –when your onions are ready – your asparagus/celery should also be ready to join together. Now- put everything together, add the broth and the spinach and cook just long enough for the spinach to wilt in to the mix.  Then pull out your trusty immersion blender and puree the whole thing in the same pan.  Season to your taste with salt and pepper and serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprinkling of toasted sunflower seeds.  The soup is surprisingly filling- add a slice of nice bread and you have a meal.

A small rant on “wouldn’t everyone like to run away to France”

Without going in to tedious detail that just gets me shouting at inanimate objects….this was a statement made recently to Dom.  I think there are more important things for people to focus on than our decision to move to France and the fact that it doesn’t fit in with a particular picture of ‘responsible life’.

I promise this will evolve into something positive, stay with me here,  I need a little rant.

So, for those people who are sneering at us or angry with us because they see what we are doing as a rejection of a particular defined ‘perfect and responsible life’ – take a moment to reflect on why you are directing your anger and nastiness in our direction. I am sorry that you get upset when people act in a way that doesn’t support your carefully created views and I am sorry if you have an uncontrollable urge to put people down so you feel better about yourself.  I am NOT sorry for how I have chosen to live my life.  There. Rant over.  Thank you for letting me get that off my chest. …luckily these ‘people’ are a minority.  I have been really heartened by the encouragement and support we have been receiving from almost all of our friends and family. (Thank you!!)

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View from the dodgy terrace

And in case anyone was wondering – we have not moved in to some oversized castle and now spend our days lazing about the many sitting rooms contemplating our next meal.  We are in a modest farmhouse…which is less a farmhouse and more a grouping of outbuildings that were randomly connected together – with the old bread oven at the centre.  We have faltering electricity, a pool that is shifting down the hill and Dom is convinced the villagers stole our water (really, I should never have let him watch Jean de Florette!).  But you know what- we do sit on our slightly dodgy terrace most evenings, looking out at the amazing sunsets, breathing in the sheep-tinged air and we feel good.  Oh and we probably do do a lot of contemplating about food, but we multi task and try do that while we are actually working.

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Yes- this is the office and yes I sit on my butt here most days while Dom is out attacking fallen trees and destroying overgrown brambles..and I do my best to get out and about when I can

To close I will step up again on my soap box and share my top 2 rules for life:

  1. Be nice to people (and the planet). This should be simple – don’t you feel like shit when you are mean to people (unless you are a narcissistic sociopath of course, in which case you probably get off on it), you just feel better being nice to people.
  2. Do what makes you happy. OK, within reason, as long as it doesn’t hurt other people, blah blah. But what in the world are we on this earth for but to enjoy our lives…now go back to rule number 1.

Et voila… of course this is for my life right now …the list will likely grow to include things like –heating is overrated, or wine in a box is a good thing.

Hurry up and wait

The title refers to 2 slightly different dilemmas…one –Dom and I trying to break ourselves from our London approach to daily life and two, our impatience to get things sorted and really immerse ourselves in our new life. One could argue they are the same thing.

Now, before I go on don’t think I am slamming London- I love London and absolutely loved living there for twelve and a half years….rural France obviously isn’t perfect either but for where I am in my life right now, this is the place to be.

OK – so, some London daily life habits that need ‘adjustment’ in Southwest rural France.

  • Yes, you really do need 2 hours for lunch (or more!) and no the waiter or waitress will not be bringing your bill very quickly…and yes you might have to wait a bit between your first course and your second since they will be serving the entire restaurant at nearly the same time and for some reason there is only one waiter for the whole place (or at least it looks that way). When you make a reservation for lunch or dinner, often it is just that ‘reserve for lunch’ or ‘reserve for dinner’ not necessarily a specific time. You have the table for the whole time, you do not have to give it back after 90 minutes, and you couldn’t if you wanted to because you probably haven’t even ordered your ‘closing coffee’ at this point.
  • Take the time to talk to people, no, really, actually talk to people. Meaning when you are buying from people at the weekly market, pausing in front of something beautiful (church, bridge, door), in the checkout at the grocery store it is OK and in fact expected to speak more than the usual yes, no, thank you. For example in the queue at the boulangerie it is OK to have ask the person serving you (often the actual baker) to explain  the not so common loaves of bread (OK, not-so-common for me, and usually regional specialties like ‘croustillant quercynoise’), or even chat about that new shop down the road, or that strange sonic boom that happened last week. People behind you will not shoot daggers, tut or purse their lips because you are making them wait….they might even join the conversation.
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No, really, there are great doors here.

Can’t we have it now?

  • Call electrician for a problem – he shows up and fixes it. Note to the electrician there is a lot of work that will need to be done and can he prepare a devis (quote) for the work. Two weeks later, another electrical problem, call electrician, he fixes problem. Note to the electrician there is a lot of work that will need to be done and can he prepare a devis (quote) for the work. Repeat as necessary.  Latest- he did say ‘I’ll be back in early October to walk through the house so I can get the details in order to prepare the quote’. OK, he said something in French which I think meant he’ll be back….I hope.  It is early October now isn’t it. Drat.
  • Plumber ‘I’ll be back in early October to install the new boiler/update the heating system.’ At least we have a quote for that – and have paid a deposit….and he has said he has ordered the equipment. But, still…
  • Pool renovation….it should be sorted by the spring.  If we ever get the quote from the ‘man with the big machinery’ who needs to do the first bit of foundation work in the next two months.  Apparently one person has been waiting nearly 2 years for a quote form him.  That doesn’t bode well.
  • Contractor – we have the quote (yay!), we have met some of the people who will be doing the work (yay!). We will start mid-October (yay!)…I think…I haven’t heard anything for over week now.

The top five French food things that make me smile right now

Subject to change of course…come back here in truffle season.  So here they are in no particular order.

  1. Having dedicated chocolate bar and ‘apéro biscuit’ aisles at the super market. Not just a sweet/candy aisle (that is a separate aisle!) but a whole section that is dedicated to bars of chocolate.  And c’mon, a place takes their pre-dinner drinks seriously when there is a dedicated ‘nibbles’ section in nearly every grocery store, big or small.  Not surprisingly Dom and I have heartily embraced the apéro, a drink and some small nibbles to wind down from the day and bridge the time to dinner. Why not.
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hmmm, the dark with salted almonds?

 

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Now what goes well with a Negroni?

2.  Fromage. I will likely never be able to taste every single cheese in France.  But I will do my best. Cheese, cheese, everywhere: goat, sheep, cow, creamy, dry, sharp, blue, wrapped in leaves, rolled in ash, infused with truffles….

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Would you like Cabecou, Cabecou or Cabecou?

3. The menu du jour at most brasseries/local restaurants. A bargain!  For 12-16 euro you get 3 courses of very good seasonal food.  Usually 2-3 choices each for the starter, main and dessert – and often a coffee comes with the meal as well.  So far we haven’t had a bad meal.  Top that with a ‘demi’/pitcher (500mL)of the house wine for a pittance and two people can have a very satisfying lunch for around 30 euro.

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4. The bread and pastries in France are not overrated.  A good crusty ‘Quercynoise’ loaf and a pain aux raisin – and I am a happy bunny.

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5. And, of course, the markets. Apart from the amazing array of beautiful, seasonal food and artisanal products it is an event in itself, as much a social destination as a necessity for shopping.  A lot of the enjoyment comes from chatting to the vendors and watching the world go by.  Where I live you can find a market just about every day of the week, but the ‘big ones’ tend to be Saturday (best is Cahors) or Sunday (best is Montcuq).