…and now for pigs

Food, poo, sex and a lot of mud.  That pretty much sums up the last two days. Part of the ‘France Plan’ is to have a smallholding – with pigs at the centre (Dom has always had a thing for pigs…and we both love charcuterie). So we figured it might be useful to actually figure out how to manage pigs, and a smallholding in general. We had read some engaging books by Simon Dawson, who moved with his wife Debbie from London to Devon over 10 years ago, starting from no experience and now they are running a successful smallholding/small pig farm in Devon.

The books are a good read, entertaining and informative: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Simon-Dawson/e/B003HJE5OS/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1489941872&sr=8-2-ent

…so we signed on for the two day smallholding course at Hidden Valley Pigs (http://www.hiddenvalleypigs.co.uk/) and headed off to Exmoor. The weather wasn’t exactly welcoming, but the location was so beautiful we really didn’t mind.

Before lunch on the first day we had learned: male ducks have an insatiable sex drive and won’t hesitate to hop on whatever bird is nearby (e.g. a chicken!), orphan lambs get stressed when they are moved around and their diet changes, which leads to runny poo….and they might poo on you while you are ‘ringing’ them (google it, let’s just say you boys out there might not like it). Also – you can do some amazing things with quail eggs (smoked eggs anyone?). ‘But what about the pigs?’ you say.

Ahh yes, the pigs. Lovely Berkshire Black pigs happily roaming around the woods. We fed, watered, hung out with, watched and even chatted with the pigs. Simon’s passion about the pigs was infectious and if we weren’t convinced before- we definitely want to raise pigs now. There is something very engaging and relaxing about the pigs, on our last day, Dom and Simon and I were just chatting and watching the pigs for nearly an hour…putting the world to right.

Debbie filled our heads with loads of info on breeding and birth, of not only pigs (did you know pigs have kind of a double uterus and so will pass two afterbirths?) but goats, geese, chickens, ducks and turkeys.

Food- apart from feeding the animals (bottle feeding the lambs was particularly fun) we were also fed, and our last lunch of a fried goose egg on toasted freshly baked bread was delicious.

Mud- lots of it, in some places it was nearly to the top of my wellies. I imagine it would get quite tedious after awhile, but I was like a naughty child and enjoyed squidging around.

We are really energised for the next steps…just waiting for an offer on our house. We are thinking we will start with a few pigs and chickens (then goats will likely join the fun!)…and are looking into an old French breed pig, the Black Gascon, which apparently makes a great ham! Now I think we may need to learn a little charcuterie.

Midweek Mushroom Soup

Did you know a single large portobello mushroom can have more potassium than a banana? A good excuse for a rich earthy mushroom soup. This is a simple soup to pull together, and it is always fun to whizz stuff up in a blender.  You could also re-purpose this as a rich pasta sauce, or sauce for chicken or pork.

  • 2T Rapeseed oil
  • 1 onion sliced
  • 1 med/large carrot diced
  • 1 stalk celery sliced
  • 200g mushrooms, sliced…I used a mix of Chestnut and Shiitake
  • 1 small potato, peeled and grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • Generous pinch Herbs de Provence
  • Salt and pepper
  • 400 ml whole milk
  • Chopped fresh herbs, and/or croutons, or some toasted seeds or…..

Heat oil on a large skillet and add the onions, celery, carrots and mushrooms. Cook, covered over low heat for 15 min. Add a couple tablespoons of water if it is getting dry- then add garlic, grated potato, pinch salt and Herbs de Provence. Cover and cook another 10 minutes. Take off the heat and tip it into a blender. Add a bit of freshly ground pepper and the  milk and blend until fairly smooth. Pour back into a pan over low-medium heat for 5-10 min until heated through., if it is too thick add a bit of stock or water to thin.

Serve with a sprinkling of freshly chopped herbs, or your topping of choice. Serves 2 as a main and 4 as a starter.

 

A fresh little salad

A lovely little recipe from Katherine,  and a nice welcome to spring! Katherine lives in California, so Spring might be a little bit closer than here in London. I am certainly ready for some nice refreshing salads…..and will be trying this one out soon.
  • 5 small cucumbers diced
  • 3 big tomatoes chopped
  • 1/4 quarter onion diced (I would suggest red/purple)
  • A handful of diced parsley
  • A handful of diced cilantro (a.k.a fresh coriander)
  • Juice of one lemon
  • 2T olive oil.
Mix everything together add a pinch of sugar, salt & pepper to taste. If needed add more olive oil and a splash of vinegar. That’s it, simple!

For sale! ….and budget considerations (yawn).

The house is now ‘decluttered’ (sort of….) and on the market.  10 viewings so far and it is all a bit manic, no ‘smelly’ cooking, everything put away, floors constantly hoovered and mopped and making sure the dog is sorted  (e.g. out of the house during viewings)…probably not the most inviting thing for everyone to be welcomed by a large wolf-like creature, despite that fact he is very friendly.

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I am a bit torn- I hope we get an offer soon so we can get back to ‘normal’ but I am also aware that once we accept an offer ‘normal’ is going to mean lots of admin and planning….and the fact we are likely to be homeless for a bit given we can’t actually buy anything in France until we are confident our London home is really sold. House buying and selling in the UK is infamously volatile and being in a chain of interdependent buyers and sellers can be a nightmare…and we have been in a chain that fell apart, not fun.

So the next task for us is getting a better idea of various restoration/renovation  and building works costs in France so we don’t get stuck with something that seems a good buy…and then end up breaking the budget.  We aren’t planning to buy something that needs extensive renovation, but we also know that whatever we buy is unlikely to be ‘perfect’ and may need another gite, or upgrade, or a swimming pool (or renovate a swimming pool)….or fencing for fields etc.  Yeah, this isn’t exactly the exciting bit, I still seem to be smiling to myself a lot.

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Berry Nut Slump

‘What is a slump?’ I hear you ask….well, it isn’t a cobbler and it isn’t a crisp.  It is kind of calfouti-esque (and what is a clafouti? https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/wordofmouth/2013/aug/29/how-to-cook-perfect-cherry-clafoutis) in that it is basically a bunch of fruit covered in a batter, but for a slump the batter is slightly more cake like and a calfouti is more flan-like.  Confused yet?  What you need to know is that this is an easy and forgiving recipe, and is a great way to use up whatever fruit you have – fresh or frozen.

  • 75g toasted hazelnuts
  • 300g blackberries (or blueberries, or raspberries, or boysenberries….)
  • 50g demerara sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 200g butter
  • 180g caster sugar
  • ½ t salt
  • 140g flour
  • 1/8 t ground cardamom
  • ¼ ground cinnamon
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • thick yoghurt and honey to serve

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter an 8×8 inch square baking pan (well buttered!) Melt the 200g butter, set aside. Chop the toasted hazelnuts and sprinkle them in to the pan. Top with the berries then sprinkle the demerara sugar over the berries and nuts. Make the batter – in a bowl mix together the flour, salt and spices. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and sugar together until pale and fluffy, stir in lemon zest, then fold in the flour mixture. Pour the batter over the fruit and bake for 35 minutes. Cool 10-15 minutes then turn out onto a serving dish so the berries are on top. Serve with some plain yoghurt and a drizzle of honey….it is best served slightly warm, and a good treat for breakfast the next day (if it lasts that long!)

Picking up momentum

Simple: a long weekend in the ‘Land of Pigeonniers’  to try and get our heads around exactly where in France we want to live. See a few properties to get a better idea of what we could afford/expect….have some nice food and wine.

Well, 10 properties later…we are back home in London and putting our house on the market!

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We arrived with a detailed list of what we wanted…and didn’t expect anything to fully fit the bill.  And, no, nothing was perfect- but there were three properties that could easily work for what we want to do.  We realised we can make this happen now.   I have my favourite of course- but I am confident we have choices and will be able to find something when we now go back in May.

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Some highlights of the trip:

  • The rented Renault Twingo automatically linking to my phone and blasting Rufus Wainwright as soon as we set off from Toulouse airport
  • Viewing a 13th century castle and ‘compound’ and believing for about 10 minutes we might actually be able to make it work (later realising it probably costs a lot of money to ‘shore up a tower’)
  • Hearing our French estate agent  Ludovic enthusiastically telling a French couple about what a great idea we have for a cooking school…focusing on local products, including the Black Gascon Pig.  And then having them agree.
  • Spending £5 on a bottle of wine that was really damn good!
  • Eating duck confit with a cep sauce on a February day – outside – in a lovely village

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Katherine’s Simple Pasta

This is a quick, simple and healthy dish to pull together – perfect for a midweek meal, and should please most kids!

  • Handful of grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese
  • 2 cups cherry tomatoes
  • 3 cloves diced garlic
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Dash Olive oil
  • Handful of fresh chopped parsley & basil
  • 2 cups dried macaroni pasta
  • 2 strips of bacon, cooked and sliced fine

Cook pasta and set aside. In a medium skillet sauté the garlic until soft in olive oil, add cherry tomatoes and cook until they start to pop. Add pasta, bacon and lemon zest to garlic and tomatoes, mix together then add cheese and fresh herbs to taste. Serve and enjoy.