Thursday 24 March 2011

Spring Clean / Nettoyage de Printemps

 I really started something today when I opened the fridge and in a very 'Virgo' way decided that it needed a 'clean'....everything came out and almost all of it went back in once the interior was sparkling...then the oven top and before I knew it I had the oven pulled out and the whole damn kitchen was fair you have to understand that this was NOT how I had planned to spend my morning BUT I know myself well enough to know that once in this mood then I will not stop till all cupboards have been 'sifted and sorted, wiped and cleaned'!
As we have a wood burner the ash from the fire is a continuous hazard for the house proud...well it has all gone now and everything is lovely and clean...ready to start the summer! Chaos reins in my kitchen so now it's time to put the contents of the shelves and benches back to some semblance of order in time to cook dinner....
We had a nice wee interlude at lunchtime though as 'the' chicken came through the gate with Liliana clucking madly and fussing and carrying on...we left her to eat our baguettes and returned to discover, to our joy, another 2 eggs...still warm in her 'nest' in my garden...chicken nowhere to be seen...puts a whole new twist on  'dropping in'...I await with interest her return...might even get a photo of her next time!
                                                                  EGG TALLY: 6

Wednesday 23 March 2011

Pomme de Terre/ Apples of the earth

Liliana awoke early today with great excitement as it was THE day that she was going to her great friend Blandine's house to was finally Blandine's birthday!
The morning passed slowly with a stint of gardening planting a Lilac tree the Madam Paris had duly delivered the day before and a bit of digging in the vegetable patch whilst Madam looked over my shoulder...there was three winter worn celeriac plants in the garden that she felt should be dug up and eaten rather than composted immediately as I was I dug them up and she went off happily with the celeriac in her grubby plastic bucket having left behind a huge pile of her potatoes. A more than fair exchange!
Two o'clock finally came around and we drove to the small village where Liliana's friend lives and with much excitement she was duly deposited for the afternoon...Blandine was wearing a lovely new T-shirt which had a bright sloppy puppy on it with the English words underneath 'One Cool Doggy'....her lovely mothers attempt to meet us in the middle with the language and a generous gesture of friendship....these girls have 'clicked' since starting nursery adoration!
On my drive back the temperature reading was 20 degrees and the blue skies and sunshine made the surrounding countryside look fantastic...As Blandine lives in the same village as Liliana used to go to nursery school I used to do this drive four times a day. I have seen this countryside in all weather and as Liliana now catches the bus to the 'big' school it has been a while since I have passed this way....
It was lovely to see the soil all perfectly tilled for miles in preparation of the planting of potatoes and sugarbeet over the next few weeks....some 70% of all of the potatoes grown in France are grown in Champagne-Ardenne so even the supermarket potatoes have almost as few 'miles' as Madam Paris from paddock to plate.
All of these photos along the route the drive was an absolute I have also got the pleasure of Madam Paris' potatoes for supper...tonight they will be served 'crushed' with lots of fresh herbs from the garden...

CRUSHED POTATOES...another recipe from Julia's kitchen...
1. Boil the potatoes in salted water for 8-10 mins and then drain and place on a flat shallow baking tray.
2. Crush the potatoes gently with a fork or potato mash so they still resemble the original shape but are a flattened version.
3. Drizzle with good quality olive oil, sea salt, pepper and a mix of fresh or dried herbs...rosemary, oregano, thyme, parsley...
4. Bake in a moderate oven for 20 - 30 mins...until the potatoes are brown and crispy around the edges and still soft like a roast potato in the centre...keep an eye on them so they do not dry out too much.
5. Serve with a fresh handful of chopped parsley thrown over the top and enjoy with a roast lamb, well cooked BBQ steak, juicy roast chicken or a pork chop with apple...

Tuesday 22 March 2011 beginnings/Printemps...nouveau depart

We had some very old friends to stay for the weekend and we both loved having the opportunity to sit, chat and cook up a storm! After a visit to the market we came home with pretty bright spring flowers, soft creamy organic brie, unpasteurised organic milk in large old fashioned bottles and the first white asparagus of the season...delicious served simply with mayonnaise and a squeeze of lemon...
 A walk around the garden revealed all of the new growth coming to life with the warmth of the sun...

...a time for reflecting on the winter past and embrace the new season with zest! Bikes were out and the girls had a great time running a veterinary clinic for various bugs and worms dug up out of the garden! A simple innocent way to while away a Saturday afternoon...nothing like an old fashioned mud pie!
Late afternoon we visited the local champagne house for a very special personalised cellar tour with the most senior member of the family giving us a lovely take on the business that is Champagne...with flare, nominal English and a lot of smiling and good humour we toured the family caves...a few added extras....sipping the jus de vin [grape juice] out of the tanks and dramatic disgorging display...removing the sediment at the head of the bottle by opening the cap and then spraying it into the bushes...lovely descriptions of the wine...with time and careful blending the jus de vin 'grumpy old men' turns into a delicious sophisticated champagne 'beautiful ladies'... during the  champagne tasting.
 The Pavoni coffee machine which we brought in Florence 15 years ago got an overdue overhaul by the blokes and once complete we got to sip gorgeous fresh coffee made with our creamy organic milk...after our lovely machine had sat gathering dust on a shelf for the past couple of years it was so fantastic to be able to hear it bubbling away was a weekend of simple pleasures....

Wednesday 16 March 2011

Early Easter / Tot Pacques?

 Yesterday I found a random egg on the stones...
 went to pick it up...
to discover it was one of four...
all a bit of a mystery until Mike and Liliana told me about the escapee chicken that was scratching around in the garden earlier in the week...home deliveries...fantastic!

Monday 14 March 2011

Travel Memories/Souvenirs SUSHI!

It is interesting that the French word for memory is souvenir. Memory is always discussed a lot in our house but over the weekend more than the normal where did I put my keys, wallet, mobile etc... as a result of me spending the week emptying the loft at the top of the barn of all of the things that were not needed years ago when we first shifted from London. Bags of stuffed toys, old books, film notes, costumes, fabrics, old shoes, baby clothes, music tapes and numerous odds and sods that we have not only lived without but completely forgotten about! Amelia managed to score a pair of brand new Doc Martin boots and Liliana now has more 'friends' than her room can cope with [including a cat that talks and a monkey that sings!!].

I am always amazed at the ability of the mind to return one to the whole experience of a journey purely from a small slice of the physical reality from a time past. I had a whole day of reminiscing all of my work trips abroad from my day of sifting and sorting...a bag of small pieces of leather...madness of an Iron Maiden promo shot at the now renovated Roundhouse in Camden...a bag of white shiny skimpy angel costumes and I am in Buenos Aires with Bacardi eating hearty beef steaks and drinking Malbec...the Renault green sequins and fabulous memories of a two week job in Capetown and all that gorgeous fresh fish...a beaten up slightly silver pair of boots with studs protruding reminds me of a Stella Artois job we shot in and around Prague...and the dumplings with pork and red currant sauce served to the crew in the snow as we did freezing cold night shoots...and on it souvenirs.

Food was one of the most fabulous things about getting to travel to these great locations to work. Often only a small number of crew would travel abroad so we all ate, director, producer and day, the local food with the local crew and by night, in the most fantastic restaurants serving local wines and specialty dishes. With the bonus of having local guides who want you to be impressed by their favourite restaurants it is certainly one up on traveling with a travel guide blindly in an unknown city. I still feel privileged to have been able to have these fabulous evenings out and have the opportunities that I had to travel in this way throughout all of these lovely places in the world.

For obvious reasons after the horrific events over the weekend I also had Japan in the front of my mind. We visited Japan 15 years ago as part of a world trip when our son was only just 5 years was at the tail end of a holiday which took in America, Europe and the UK. We flew into Kyoto and spent a week touring the city and visiting friends living in Japan and then we all went to stay in a monestry high up in the mountains...a very serenely beautiful spot with stunning gardens and traditional buildings, bathing and bedding. The food we were served arrived in shiny lacquer trays and was completely unrecognisable. We had been given a menu but it was all very much guesswork...even for Gill who spoke fluent Japanese...every item on the tray was beautifully presented, sculptured and artfully arranged but not something one felt compelled to eat! Mike was extremely smug as he had gone for the children's menu and although he only received one tray instead of our three it contained the most stylish hamburger you have ever the boys, small and large, were happy!

I have to say that this rates as one of the strangest meals I have eaten... seemed to be all vegetarian soya, rice and tofu based paste coloured and made into various shapes and sizes...but one will never know! My memory creates a  visual not a gastronomic experience...maybe the taste was best forgotten. Meanwhile the Monks running the monastery sit and watch American and British TV, drink Belge beers and drive very fancy European cars...a fascinating life!

In NZ we ate a lot of Japanese food and our favourite restaurant for a birthday in Wellington was a Teppanyaki food throwing affair and in Auckland the more sophisticated 'Cafe Reika' where each platter that left the kitchen was an individual work of art and entirely edible! The plum wine was always a winner aperitif and the sake divine.

Our lovely neighbour's who visited for the weekend recently from Belgium brought with them the ingredients for a big Sushi was just delicious and reminded me of many Japanese meals that we have had all around the world...such great healthy food with simple fresh ingredients...fab! If you have the luxury of Japanese ingredients at hand give it a is actually very easy and a lot of fun.

Quick and easy sushi maki (sushi rolls)

By Merrilees Parker [Saturday Kitchen]


For the sushi
to serve

Preparation method

  1. Rinse the rice very well under cold water. Drain thoroughly and put into a large saucepan that has a lid. Pour over 1 pint of water. Bring to the boil and allow to simmer for about 25 minutes or until nearly all the water has been absorbed. Remove from the heat, cover with a lid and allow to stand for 10 minutes.
  2. Then tip the rice onto a large flat clean tray. A metallic is probably best as it will help the rice cool down quicker. Dress the rice with the mirin, turning frequently as this helps the rice to cool. Then fan with a fan or a magazine until the rice is room temperature (not essential but quite authentic).
  3. To make the sushi take a Japanese bamboo sushi mat and place a sheet of seaweed on top. Have a small bowl of water to hand. Dip your fingers in the water before you touch the rice. Spread the rice over three quarters of the seaweed, take a little rice at a time and push it to the edges leaving a layer about ½ cm thick. Leave the quarter the furthest away from you plain.
  4. Next smear a little wasabi in a line a little off centre nearest to your body. Follow with a layer of tuna, a spring onion and a piece of cucumber. Roll up the bamboo mat slowly, tucking in the closer end of the sushi roll to start a roll and press lightly with both hands. Remove the roll from the mat and leave to sit with the joining edges downwards. You can wrap in cling film and keep in a cool place until you are ready to serve. Don't place in the fridge as this dries out the rice.
  5. To serve, using a lightly moistened sharp knife to trim the ends, then cut into 6-8 pieces. Serve with the pickled ginger and little bowls of soy sauce.

Thursday 10 March 2011

Post Earthquake Christchurch

This blog has been inspired by an email I received from my very good friend Emily that I felt I must share. I met Emily in Wellington when she was a Floor Manager for TVNZ and have known her for 20 odd years. I have walked the Heaphy Track with her, been to her wedding to Rex in Christchurch and shared numerous meals with her and drunk her lovely Wairarapa wine...her Dad was a highly respected lawyer in Christchurch and her family have lived in Christchurch for over 150 years...this piece is written by her sister Lucy and is for all of us who cannot even begin to imagine what daily life in Christchurch has become.

"HI to you all, this is a link some one has sent me, but sadly this is just the tip of the Christchurch iceberg. Many shots you will have seen. for those of you getting bored, skip them by. They say a picture paints a thousand words, but it takes a million words, to stand amidst the rubble and truly express, the full impact of this. September 4 was a warm-up to Feb 22.

As you will know by now, the earth has spoken to us with a tune we are now very familiar with, and has changed our city for ever. My family settled here 150 years ago, and now, their hallmarks, our heritage, have been destroyed. But being true Kiwis, we will rise again. Our community has grown in strength and fortitude, but we have a long road ahead of us to get back to Sept 3rd.

"Camping" has taken on a new perspective, but I am grateful to still have my own bed and a roof over my head.
With No power, water, sewage, or cellphone coverage, or phone lines, it has been a wake up call for all the amenities that we take for granted. Such things as having transport, shops, banks, and waiting 4 hours for water, was also a wake up call.

Once the fridge and freezer had rotted, it wasn't for me, so much the power that I missed, as I had gas for cooking and a damn efficient Hooded BBQ that worked like a convection oven, even worked perfectly to cook pastry. As I had gas, my kitchen became the neighbourhood kitchen. I learnt to be organised and use the daylight hours efficiently, and appreciate the power of an efficient candle, and the placement of it to get the best light. It took at least a week for me to stop trying to flick on the light switch.

Collecting water and boiling it is a bit of a chore, but do-able, and by gathering for others, increased efficiency. It uncovered for me just how much water we consume. My garden had to wilt, as my washing water was not enough to keep it watered.  My brother rigged up a very much appreciated and popular hot shower via his solar heating, but with out running water, we would have to climb on to the roof,  pour a bucket of water in to a container, pump it up to an improvised header tank, to have a shower. Pure Bliss bringing a smile to every customer. We would catch the initial run off of cold water from the hot cylinder, which always amazed me, -about half a bucket that would normally run down the drain, would then be recycled.

There was a Rest home over the road in similar circumstances, and I knew from my Rest Home  days, that there would be a few oldies in need of a shower, so we wheeled them over the road and returned them clean and very happy. I then collected others that were still managing in the community, via the water tanker, and showered them and returned them squeaky clean.

The "smallest room" was my biggest stretch, With only a small garden, one has to be creative with a "longdrop" as sewage infrastructure was out of action along with the water. for some, having no garden, was no longer the desired, low maintainence option.
Not having power meant we didn't get TV, so it felt weird that so much was happening, that we could hear about, but not get the graphic  images, or Internet. The wonderful transistor radio, supplied by the power company, was our life line to the outside world. The roads were very dodgy and at times we were isolated, by rock falls and broken roads.

There have been very many incredible pieces, over the past few weeks, and I am proud to live in community that can mobilise and get going, working tireless hours, with numerous, helping hands, from, neighbours, communities, nationally, and internationally.  All working with absolute, focus on the task at hand, never stopping, never slowing down. "Armys" from all walks of life mobilised, digging, or feeding the army's, or picking off rubble, or delivering food, baking, delivering or emptying portoloos. None I doubt, even had to be asked, they just appeared. Organisation, on a scale that, if it was organised, would for sure, have had many hitches, but it appeared to roll like clockwork. Groups of people "popping up" and doing tasks, then leaving.

We are a very grateful community, and city. As I pass them,  I thank every worker, every solider, cop, SARS person, Fireman, digger driver, or signalman I pass in the Street. Even if it is just a "thumbs up", They all look  me in the eye, smile,  and either nod, or say your welcome. I thanked one Aussie cop, gave him a hug, and said we are extremely grateful for you and your crew for coming. He looked me in the eye and said, " This has been the most rewarding experience I have ever had in the 15 yrs in the force, I have worked on some big jobs, but never been welcomed with such open arms and true gratitude and taken in to communities as I have here. It will be with me forever" 
 It has been this goodwill that has lubricated this city over the past few weeks. Egos fallen by the wayside as we unite picking in up the pieces.

Slowly we are naming the missing, burying the dead as the toll rises, and we see up close, the true size of this monster, it starts sinking in. We wonder what is next, but reflect on what we have, and what we can create just as our forefathers did. Right now, the dust is settling, and we are taking stock. The rocks that keep falling, the flooding, the silt, the dust, the liquefaction, the dirty carpets, the broken roads and houses, the fallen trees and those being felled, are a further reminder along with the rocking, of what has happened.

There are many, stories, many hero's, and many acts of kindness, and a whole heap of Kiwi ingenuity. true #8 fencing wire mentality. I have seen this even in the young, and  elderly, making do with just what they had.

Slowly we are returning to some type of normality, but it is a long way from where we were.

To those who have left, come back, and join the team.
To those afar, we are asking for your good wishes, patience and support.
I will not bore you with more details as I'm sure the media will cover that.

much love


if you would like to donate to the earthquake appeal that is supporting our community this is the link

Monday 7 March 2011

Grandmothers Day / 'Grand Fête des Mères'

 The sun shone brightly on Sunday and we all enjoyed blue skies and a feeling of release as we walked to the Mondemont [The Great War memorial on the hill overlooking Oyes] via the vineyards. I cycled and the kids ran and walked alongside...there was still a chill in the air but if we forgot the bite of the breeze we could imagine it was a summers day. We are all ready for summer and are willing it on...spring flowers are pushing through and the days are longer...not long to wait for a return to our outdoor life...the garden and the fun activites that the sunshine prompts..picnics, BBQ's, long evenings under the stars and the freedom of few clothes and sandels after the removal of the weighty winter coats and long leather boots!
There is a cookbook in my collection that came to me recommended by my great friend Julia, who happens to be my favourite person to dine with, especially if she is cooking! Her food is always divine and so well executed that I learn something from her every time we talk and eat home from home in London her house is a warm hug to me...full to the brim with the most amazing array of cooking implements, exotic ingredients, baskets of fresh fruit, vases of flowers and bowls of tasty aperitifs...always ready for a chat over a matter the time of day...I perch on the wooden stool and watch Julia effortlessly prepare a feast for all and sundry that grace her door and her table!
The book is called 'Falling Cloudberries...a world of family recipes' by Tessa Kiros. Tessa takes you on a journey of her life and travels through her family cuisine from many different parts of the world.... This book speaks summer to me...Greece, Cyprus, Italy, South Africa...beautifully photographed the food looks fabulous...every carefully considered plate, tablecloth and napkin in gorgeous textures and colours...fresh flowers and fruit, family portraits in black and white...and all tied together by the food shared by Tessa and her family. You will love everything you try and go back to make it will become a staple in the kitchen bookcase...
 I revisited 'Pork Schnitzel' over the weekend. It was a childhood favourite but it has been years since I have felt inclined to go there again...I had simply just forgotten about it until when browsing through 'Falling Cloudberries' I was tempted by a photo of Tessa's Finnish version...the simple addition of a crushed garlic clove, 1/2 tsp of sweet paprika and a teaspoon of chopped rosemary to the beaten eggs the pork loin is coated with then marinated in takes this dish to another level. The loins are then crumbed and fried in butter...great hot the first night and my family finished them off cold for lunch the next day after the big walk washed down with Ginger Beer...just as we used to as kids!
 For dessert I finally made a recipe from Tessa's book that I have often admired and the whole family was so enthusiastic about the result that I am going to share it! These little biscuits should be popped into the mouth whole where they melt with such a pleasant sensation that they take you by surprise...and then you just have to have another!
makes around 45...

250 gm of butter
2 tbsp icing sugar [plus about 300gm for dusting]
1 egg yolk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp brandy or similar
300gm plain flour
1 tsp baking powder

Pre heat the oven to 180 deg [350F]

1. Beat softened butter for 8-10 mins until pale and thick.
2. Add 2 tbsp icing sugar then egg yolk, vanilla and brandy. Mix well.
3. Add sifted flour and baking powder mixing till you have a thick dough.
4. Scoop into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for 30 mins.
5. Roll into balls the size of cherry tomatoes [mine were a little larger as Liliana was assisting!]
6. Bake for 18 - 20 mins.
7. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 10 - 15 mins.
8. Line a tray with baking paper and cover generously with icing sugar then place biscuits on the tray and sprinkle with the balance of the icing sugar...they should be almost buried in the sugar.
9. Enjoy with coffee, tea, champagne or a glass of iced water...dessert or afternoon tea! 

The children delivered a plate of these wee treats for Madam Paris to enjoy in celebration of 'Grand Fête des Mères' / Grandmothers day!!

Thursday 3 March 2011

Champagne and Rose Biscuits/ 'Biscuit Rose de Reims'

My lovely niece Annah gets married tomorrow in New Zealand...a happy moment after all of the sad ones experienced lately in NZ. We cannot be there to share but feel we will be in spirit as they all enjoy Champagne and 'Biscuits Rose de Reims' that we sent from France for her, her new husband and their guests. The choice to spend your life in another part of world from where you grew up is always one that comes over time...but it is at times like this when you really feel the distance from family and wish that it was just a short trip to be with all of the whanau on the other side of the world...celebrating!

At the end of a row of grape vines in Champagne they plant see them dotted along the roadside as you pass by...they are very beautiful when flowering and dot the landscape with colour in contrast with the leafy green of the vines. These roses have a very important job to do. They are sensitive to changes in the soil and react quicker than the vines to disease. This gives the vine grower time to adjust the growing environment before it has any negative effect on the neighbouring vines. 
In typical french style where food is always closely linked to every aspect of life and in celebration of the rose 'Biscuit Rose de Reims' was created in 1691 and is still one of the jewels of the city of Reims today. Always associated with champagne it is a symbol of celebration. Reims [pronounced 'rance'] is a city we know well and enjoy...the cathedral is famous as the place where French Kings have been crowned for centuries...we worth a visit to catch the Marc Chagall stained glass windows...
Today, the rose biscuit is also used in many recipes. The powder is crushed into ice cream, white chocolate and parfaits with strawberries. The biscuits are used in a similar way to sponge fingers...soaked in alcohol and fruit juice and made into tiramisu style cakes with the liquer 'Marc de Champagne' or used as a decorative framework for cakes made with cream or ice cream. Always delicate, fragile and feminine. In addition to their pink colour the biscuits are characterized by a crisp texture and they melt in the mouth. They make a fantastic aperitif with champagne and are a great addition to a dessert platter with coffee. Commonly served by Champagne houses at tastings as you wind your way around the 'Route de Touristique' sampling the wares of local producers...a welcome snack to help to soak up some of the Champagne!
So my clever sister wrote to tell me she has written "a little blurb for the MC to read about the Fossier biscuits and you guys in France etc... we are having them with bubbles directly after the ceremony... the table will be set up with pressed glass plates, a vintage linen cloth and roses.... so should be nice - will take a photo of it for you to see... " I will post the photo once it arrives!! 
So here is 'SALUT' to our lovely neice, Annah and Davieth her new husband to be!! We hope that they have a fantastic life together!!!  Wish we were there!!