Saturday 31 December 2011

Oysters and Champagne: Bonne Annee!! Happy New Year!!

 The end of the old and beginning of the New Year in Champagne is celebrated with Oysters and Champagne and the house is decorated with 'gui' or mistletoe collected for the forests nearby....

We too had this pleasure but a day early due to a surprise visit from a very old friend Martin who has a very long association with our house...he designed and planted the garden and whiled away many an hour clipping and trimming and loving the garden on his frequent trips from well established in Paris Australian born Martin is a fashion designer of some note and he spends his days flying to all of the fashion capitals of the world...a stark contrast to our world in rural Champagne but it was inspiring and energising to reflect and remember the early days 15 years ago when we first fresh off the plane from New Zealand into a cold snowy Champagne as recipients of the Moet and Chandon Artists Residency and Martin relaxing at 'Aupres de l'eglise' from Paris as he worked tirelessly to build a name in the hard world of 'haute couture'.
View Martin's gorgeous woman's wear collections on

So we ate well and drank well and toasted the rekindling of a friendship while laughing and recalling tales from our past...not being a huge fan the oysters were gingerly received initially but once in the swing I thoroughly enjoyed the salty taste of the sea followed by the soft sweetness of the effervescent champagne...such an age old combination and one that rightly deserves its very own day on the food calender of France...the markets and supermarkets set up special stalls for the 'huitres' alongside bags of dusky pink shallots and fresh the local Rotary club was also handing out bunches of 'gui' [mistletoe] with its lovely cloudy white berries in return for a donation...

So here we are ready to launch into 2012....I think that I am now excited and ready to take it on!


Tuesday 27 December 2011

Christmas Eve

We started Xmas Eve in Sezanne where they, believe it or not!!, absail Santa and his elves off the large stone Cathedral into the cobbled square, helium filled balloons are released and bags of gorgeous chocolates and sweets are distributed to all of the children present...
 Wee pop up shops under the cathedral sell crafts, 'vin chaud', waffles and crepes...the Merry-go-round also does great business....
 French families then head home to start the feasting....oysters, champagne, salmon, foie gras, cheese and 'bouche de Noel'....elaborately decorated sponge roll or log to finish....presents are then shared and opened...possibly followed by a trip to the local 'Eglise' for Midnight Mass...although this seems less popular as time goes on....
For the past 3 or 4 years we have dined in the traditional French way on Christmas Eve on many gorgeous treats at the home of local friends....then after numerous courses with wine to match we go out to our car and dig it out of the snow before heading our families English tradition for the children is to wake early to open your stockings and then try your best to get the adults washed and fed as soon as possible so you can unwrap the pile of presents under the tree...

These two traditions enacted simultaneously cause quite a bit of sleep deprivation in the household meaning that the huge Xmas bird ends up being eaten closer to dinner than lunch and on it goes....
This year we did not attend the long meal on Xmas Eve and as a result awoke fresh and ready to attack the day come Christmas morning with cheerful rested children and smiling chirpy adults...

At our house the traditional dessert is Pavlova...a typical Kiwi meringue dessert that is made by all aunts, mothers and daughters up and down the sun drenched land at Xmas....dressed with cream and fruit...passion fruit, kiwifruit, raspberries or strawberries...

This is my mothers recipe and one that takes some looks complex but is all very simple...give it a go!

My Mum's Soft Centre Pavlova   

3 egg whites
1 1/2 cups of sugar
3 tablespoons of cold water
3 tsp cornflour
Pinch salt
Half a tsp vanilla
1 tsp vinegar

Beat egg whites until very stiff. Add water (a tbsp at a time) and beat. Add sugar gradually, beating well. Lastly mix in cornflour, salt, vinegar and vanilla. Place mixture on baking paper which has been wet under tap. Spread mixture to create hollow-ish centre. Bake at 130 deg C for 1 hour, then turn oven off and leave for 1 hour. Take out and place on wore rack to cool.

Hints for Pav making –
Bowl and beater must be clean and dry.
Add sugar a little at a time & beat well when all is added.
Don’t over-beat egg whites or they may go runny.
Separate eggs very carefully....

Pavlova was standard fare for birthday’s and Christmas. Hearing Mum’s beater going was a sound associated with birthday celebrations.
Home to whip up Liliana's stocking...she has nagged me for years for one the same as the older here is is...all ready for the big boy to fill!!


Friday 23 December 2011

'Kitchen Confidential:Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly'

 If you are short of a Christmas gift for a partner or friend who loves to cook then treat them to a copy of 'Kitchen Confidential:Adventures of Culinary Underbelly' written by Chef Anthony Bourdain...this book was thrown at me by a friend who as I departed from their house in London recently and I am loving it! A bit crass and crude in places it gives a fascinating insight of behind the scenes of the life and work of a professional chef. Delivered with great wit and humour it romps along at a great pace with a surprise at every turn. The chapter on how to kit your kitchen up so you can cook like the pros makes essential reading for anyone who is self taught and aspires to deliver a restaurant standard in their own home...a funny easy read that will make you laugh out loud...only a third into the book I look forward to dipping into it at every opportunity. Reviewed below this sums up the madness....

"When Chef Anthony Bourdain wrote "Don't Eat Before You Read This" in The New Yorker, he spared no one's appetite, revealing what goes on behind the kitchen door. In Kitchen Confidential, he expanded that appetizer into a deliciously funny, delectable shocking banquet that lays out his 25 years of sex, drugs, and haute cuisine.
From his first oyster in the Gironde to the kitchen of the Rainbow Room atop Rockefeller Center, from the restaurants of Tokyo to the drug dealers of the East Village, from the mobsters to the rats, Bourdain's brilliantly written, wild-but-true tales make the belly ache with laughter."
click to look inside
This book comes in many covers but I prefer this one!
While new to me this New York Times Bestseller has been around for a while and if you enjoy the dry wit and mad 'bad boy' chef humour then they also have a TV Series based on the book which I am certainly going to seek out...Fox produced the series and even though only 13 episodes were made, and it does look a lot more clean cut than then images in my head as I read the book, it rates with 4 stars so worth giving it go!

Friday 16 December 2011

London / Londres

Just back from a whistle stop trip to London...main excuse was to collect Oscar from Uni but was the perfect way to allow a chance to check into 'Chez Julia' for a catch up and whizz around a few bars and restaurants, shops and cafes!!

After a quick Xmas shop for the girls in their favourite London haunts I met my make up artist friend Bernie in the High Road House Brasserie in Chiswick High Road for a lovely bottle of Chilean Sav Blanc and a good girlie catch up...bit of a film/media hang out this is a great place for a chat and a snack and I always enjoy the gorgeous Moroccan tiled floors which has such a great texture and colour palate...very cool....

 I then went on to dinner with other friends at the new restaurant 'Lola and Simon'...a short walk up the road towards Hammersmith. Billed as an Argentinean/New Zealand Restaurant I was keen to try it out. Recommended by friends who live nearby it is fast gaining a great reputation for great brunch, coffee and cakes as well as evening dining. Started up by a young from New Zealand and one from Argentina it takes a mix of the two cultures, wines and food...

I spent a few weeks working in Buenos Aires on a Bacardi TV commercial a few years back and really enjoyed the food and wine...I remember hearty reds and great red meat served in modern stylish particular one called simply 'Sucre Restaurant'...the luxury of travelling with film crews to far away places it that you get to dine hosted by the locals at their favourite haunts. I was pregnant with Liliana at the time and as result of my visit she is named after my assistants mother...Liliana...who was also our driver...SO this special city will always hold a place near to my heart...

'Lola and Simon'...named after, not the couple, but their dogs...proved to be a good night out with friends...a simple interior not making too many statements. It has a mean wine list of NZ Sav Blanc and Argentinean Merlot's and the menu was limited but enjoyable...not particularly Kiwi but we all enjoyed our Argentinean Empanadas, Green Lipped Muscles and Argentinean Steak with garlic £40 each for wine and 2 courses not a cheap night out!

After a big drive from France and a busy afternoon then evening bed was welcome!

The next day I awake in Grove Park in my lovely guest room at Julia's to blue skies and sunshine and a gorgeous London morning...

 I did the usual run around the supermarket for all the ingredients that were impossible to buy in France and the stop off for some NZ wine stocks and down to pick up my son and then back to time for a late supper...and a very stormy windy night in the country!!

Last day of school for Liliana today and then it is holidays for all....will be nice to have all of the kids back under the same roof again...Family Time!

Friday 9 December 2011

Entre Cour et Jardin / Le Grillon Voyageur

 Pop Up Shops has become the click phrase and we have two delicious regular POP UP SHOPS that hit Sezanne...our local village of 6,000 Christmas...that are SO worth waiting for!!

Check out the websites for these two fabulous stores which we love to visit...makes our Christmas shopping a delight!!!

Entre Cour et Jardin 

is a great shop which set in a house that was owned by two guys from Paris who spent their days decorating the homes of the wealthy French BUT unfortunately for us all one of the partners died of cancer leaving a gap that that now meant that the shop is a random affair bi-annually at the best...we LOVE what they stock and enjoy the artistic decoration of the beautiful house and garden that is a treasure to behold!!

Le Grillon Voyageur

This glamorous couple, Pascale and Olivier, that live in this fabulous French house decorated within an inch of itself in the centre of Sezanne...ozzing with style and colour that is subtle, classy and ever so tasteful. They decorate the house as a showroom and have gorgeous treats to buy in every room...the loot from their travels...rumor has it that they are ex-air hostesses and they return to their favourite haunts around Europe and bring back treasures for us to enjoy...they also do plenty of restoration and re-upholstery of the French collectables along the journey...FAB!

How lucky are we when living in rural France to have these fabulously tasteful people hosting us into their homes to buy their gorgeous stock to share with our family and friends....

Explore Sezanne 

Wednesday 7 December 2011

Kiwi Cheese Scones!

 On a blustery wintery Wednesday we all huddle inside to avoid the cold wind and wet rain...doing all of those jobs that have slipped through the net due to an over commitment of time in the busy summer months...Liliana is home from school as no school on Wednesdays in French primary schools...a nightmare for the organisation of working parents but for us it is a nice mid week break from routine...a day of rest and hanging out at home together...a chance, at this time of the year, to complete a few of winters chores...Christmas cards, present making and buying, decorating the tree and making the Christmas cake....

On these days we stop for lunch which is usually a bowl of soup that has been boiling on the stove for a few days...seasonal pumpkin, lentils, leeks and potatoes help to warm the cockles of the heart and restore the energy for the next mission...reheated and enjoyed with chunk of fresh baguette or on special occasions a batch of freshly prepared cheese scones...
Recently we popped over to have a cuddle with Theodore Louis...the new wee man in our lives and we arrived with a fresh from the oven basketful of these Kiwi style scones...the aroma is lovely and with a jar of homemade plum jam make a grateful gift for a new mum who often hangs out for a quick carbohydrate fix in the middle of the afternoon....they went down a treat and when the new dad popped over yesterday he was raving about how delicious they were and how they must get the here it is!

Now being from New Zealand the staple cookbook of our household was the 'Edmonds'. Originally produced to promote a baking powder brand the first copy was published in 1908 and it soon became the nations favourite. I currently own 4 or 5 copies, all in varying states of repair...including a very old version that used to belong to my Grandmother! My sister recently informed me that it is now accessible online so for all of you that would like some basic home cooked food on your families menu...or if you just want to know how to cook a great pavlova, meringues or to roast a NZ leg of Lamb...I have included a link...
Edmonds Virtual Cookbook meanwhile whip up a batch of Kiwi scones....having lived in the UK for many years I do refer to this recipe as Kiwi scones as I have often eaten, and been highly disappointed by, the English version which I fine hard and dry compared to the soft buttery 'melt in your mouth' NZ creations carefully crafted by my mother in my youth. Try this recipe and you will never go back!!

Edmond's Cookbook Kiwi Cheese Scones

Preparation Time: 10 minutes
Cooking Time: 15 minutes
3 cups Edmonds standard plain flour
6 teaspoons Edmonds baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
pinch of cayenne pepper and dried English mustard
75g butter
1 cup of grated cheese [chedder, emmental or similar]
1 - 1½ cups milk, approximately
extra milk for glazing


1. Preheat oven to 220oC.  Sift flour, baking powder, salt, cayenne and mustard into a bowl.  Cut butter in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add 3/4 cup of grated cheese and stir to combine.
2. Add 1 cup milk and mix quickly with a knife to a soft dough, adding more milk if needed. Knead a few times.
3. Lightly dust an oven tray with flour.  Press scone mix out on floured bench or tray, cut into 12 even-sized pieces.  Place on oven tray, brush tops with milk, sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of cheese and place in top half of oven to bake.

4. Bake scones for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Once golden brown with crisp crusts, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cooling on a rack will give you a crisp crust but I tend to put them in a basket covering them with a clean tea towel giving a soft scone.It also helps to keep them warm.
5. Serve with red jam and whipped cream or butter and bowls of steaming hearty soup....yummm...

Saturday 3 December 2011

Christmas Cinnamon Cookies/Les Sables a Cannelle pour Noel

Last night we went to the annual Christmas fare held at Liliana's school. It is a small affair held in the Mairie [Village Hall] next to the school. To get it a perspective one must understand that the school 'Ecole Broussy Le Grand' has three classrooms and each class has 2 year groups in it and Liliana's class has a roll call of 18! Her teacher M'sieur Satola is a young energetic fabulously organised chap who Liliana adores. She has been lucky to have him for the last two years and as she is such a great bright wee student all is well!
Handcrafted brooch...lovely on a winter coat!
So into the hall we go and immediately head to the bar and order a 'blida' or coupe of Champagne for €2.50 of the funniest thing about living in Champagne is at that EVERY school function, no matter the time of day, they serve complaints of course!  
A group gathers around choosing their Christmas trees from the pile near the stage, parents stand around sipping Champagne and sharing stories and groups of young boys run around sweating and excited...the usual Xmas fair carry on...

On the tables flanking the halls manned by the class teachers are all manner of handcrafted goodies created by the children to sell on to their parents...a few euros here and there to help fund the school coffers. A simple idea that works well the world over. Kids had made large reindeer shaped Advent calenders bedecked with little matchboxes, each with a number and a sweetie inside...shoe boxes have been made into mini galleries with a Christmas scene inside sealed in with plastic film and decorated with sweets....Liliana made a fabulous Reindeer decoration to hang on the tree...she carries its fragile figure safely home....cute!
Liliana's class table was also covered with cellophane bags of homemade cookies and sweets tied up with pretty ribbons...€2.00 a bag...
We made these cookies with the children in class earlier in the week and had a great deal of fun, and made a huge amount of mess, in the process...
The cookie making event was organised within an inch of its self by M'sieur Satola with all the participating parents issued with a list of tools to bring and when we arrived at school all the ingredients were neatly laid out in the front of the class. Tables cleared and cleaned, hands scrubbed and were allocated a recipe and 3 kids each!
Our 'sables' were spiced with cinnamon...others vanilla and the mothers that got the task of melting chocolate, adding cornflakes and then getting the children to put them into tiny bright coloured paper cases really had there work cut out...the coconut mixed with sweetened condensed milk proposed a similar challenge.

We had fun rolling out the dough and cutting the cookies with cutters...great hands on learning for the children...measuring, mixing and making...and then proudly taking them home as a gift for family and friends...and making some money for the school en route!

So here it is...the recipe...a fun holiday activity with the it Xmas, Halloween or a special birthday...


500 grams flour
120 grams icing sugar
60 grams unrefined raw sugar
2 sachets [tbsps] of vanilla sugar
3 teaspoons of cinnamon
pinch of salt
300 grams of sotfened butter
2 eggs

1. Put the flour into a large bowl and add the icing sugar, raw sugar and vanilla sugar and mix.
2. Add the cinnamon and salt and stir in.
3. Now the messy bit...mix in the softened butter...the kids did this by hand but a mixer would mean less mess!
4. Add the eggs and mix to a dough.
5. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin flouring your working surface well.
6. Using cookie cutters cut the dough into seasonal shapes and then remove 'cookies' and place onto a
baking try lined with baking paper. Take care not to make them too thin.
7. Continue till you have used up all of the dough and then bake the biscuits in the oven heated to 180 degrees for 12 them so they do not go too brown...
8. Leave to cool and then you can ice the biscuits or leave them plain.

Variation: Vanilla Sables: Replace the cinnamon with 3 teaspoons of good vanilla essence. You can also use larger cookie cutters then use a straw to create a hole at the top prior to baking and then thread coloured ribbons through the hole and hang them on the Christmas tree...
PS. I did not manage to get the recipe for the sweet balls but gather it was as simple as below...
Mixing sweetened condensed milk + loads of coconut then form into small balls and roll in more coconut. I sampled these and they were delicious!
Melt chocolate and mix in cornflakes stirring till covered in chocolate. Spoon teaspoon lots of the mixture into small paper cases and leave to set...adds a little colour and variety to the bag...