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.
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:
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:
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….
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:
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!
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.
OK, on that delicious note, and without further ado – get out your greens and make this simple soup!
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.
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!!)
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.
To close I will step up again on my soap box and share my top 2 rules for life:
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.
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.
Can’t we have it now?
Subject to change of course…come back here in truffle season. So here they are in no particular order.
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….
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.
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.
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).