The radishes are already starting to build up. They’re doing brilliantly in the polytunnel. I’m pleased to say that most things are thriving as well, apart from the peppers, which I can’t get to germinate, and the spring onions. Those were very old seeds though.
Ruadhri loves radishes served with butter and salt, à la française. He frequently fetches a plate for me or Chris bearing a radish accompanied by enough butter and enough salt to clog our arteries permanently! We nibble judiciously.
Here’s how to do serve them with a little more restraint.
Cut a small sliver out of each radish and replace it with a thin sliver butter. Gently sqiashing a tiny amount of margarine into the gap works just as well. Serve the radishes on a plate, either with a small amount of salt for them to be rolled in before eating, or with the salt in a bowl for them to be dipped into. It’s a very tasty combination and extremely more-ish. Which is just as well, since these are only the first of many hundreds, possibly thousands, of radishes that we’ll be growing this year!
It’s minus 4.3 degrees C and falling fast out there, so time for something warming. And what better than pumpkin soup! Regular readers will know of my love/hate relationship with pumpkins. Only veggies beginning with p seem to grow well at Les Fragnes so we end up with pommes de terre (potatoes), poireaux (leeks) and potirons (or citrouilles – pumpkins). And of that lot, the pumpkins always do best of all, meaning we have a lot of them to eat. The kids are not terribly partial to pumpkin, apart from when it’s served up in pumpkin pie form, so it’s Chris and I mainly who munch our way through many kilograms of them each year. The guinea pigs help us out when we can’t face any more.
Caiti bought this book of traditional French recipes, in French, for Chris a couple of Christmases ago to extend his culinary repertoire and also his linguistic abilities. It has entire sections of recipes featuring a particular winter staple – such as, you guessed it, pumpkin. But there are also recipes using endive (chicory), topinambour (Jerusalem artichoke), noix (nuts), poireaux (leeks, you’ll remember) and more lavishly dattes (dates), mangue (mango) and extremely extravagantly truffes (truffles).
Chris plumped for Soupe Auvergnate today and duly began the exciting task of peel pumpkins this morning. Ruadhri happened into the kitchen, and, as with the mince pies back in December, announced a desire to help. At lightning speed he found himself with a knife in his hand and a small pumpkin on a chopping board in front of him. He happily chopped away for ages and without inflicting any wounds on himself, I’m glad to say.
The great pumpkin soup cook-off ensued. Chris produced a large pan of his Auvergnate while Ruadhri, helped by his dad, plumped for ad hoc herby pumpkin soup. Both are very nice. No one can remember what Rors put into his, but here’s the recipe for Chris’s.
1.5 kg of pumpkin flesh cut in cubes
3 small leeks
1.5 litres of chicken or veg stock
150 g of grated Cantal or Bleu d’Auvergne cheese
1/2 litre cream or fromage blanc
Sauté the pumpkin and leeks in the oil until soft, then pour on the stock. Simmer away for half an hour. Just before serving mix in the cream/fromage blanc (optional) and the cheese. (Now, I can’t eat blue cheeses since I’m allergic to penicillin, and that’s the only cheese we had in the fridge, so Chris sprinkled his over his bowl of soup rather than mix it in. It worked well like that.)
We’ll be eating the soup for several more days but that’s OK. It’s all part of the winter experience chez les Dagg.
And a couple of unrelated snippets to finish. I’ve very kindly been given an award for my blog, the Leibster award, by awesome blogger and freelance writer Vanessa, for which I’m very grateful, and will blog properly about soon. Also, if you have a mo, do pop over here and read a guest post I’ve written for an upcoming fantasy author, Gary F Vanucci, whose short stories I recently had the pleasure to edit.
Yes, I know I keep saying I’m going to do Boursin next, but Rors came out with a joke the other day on seeing some Petit Suisses in the fridge. Here it is:
Comment fait-on les petits suisses ?
– Comme les petits français !
It doesn’t quite translate exactly since it’s playing on words and relies on the way the French refer to other nationalities. Rors was slightly embarrassed when I asked him to repeat it and said it was a bit rude. It’s not really!
How do you make a little Swiss (implying the cheese but meaning a person)? The same way you make a little French (person)!
So, it’s Petit Suisse cheese this week. Petit Suisse is in the family of soft cheeses. It’s fromage frais i.e. an unripe, non-salted creamy cheese. It’s made from cow’s milk and a generous dollop of cream is added during the process so it’s very high fat, up to 40%. But it’s delicious!
I dare say you’re familiar with this little cylindrical, white cheese, usually sold in 60g size, although sometimes twice that, in a plastic pot and perplexingly wrapped in paper. This strange practice dates back to when they were individually wrapped in a piece of waxed paper to hold them in shape and sold in lots of six in a small wooden box. They don’t really need the paper any more now they’re sold in pots, but it’s a tradition that’s hung on. The bits of paper can be a pain since the cheese tends to stick to them, and in our house the cats fish them out of the bin any time they manage to invade the kitchen, chew them up then spit them out on the floor. Yuk.
Petit Suisse aren’t Swiss – they originated in Normandy – but they were thought up by a Swiss person who worked at a dairy in Auvilliers. He suggested adding cream to the curd they used for cheese to make it richer, and so the whole thing began.But only because a chef’s assistant, Henri Gervais, took a shine to the product and begun to use it. He was the key to its success and built a business around it. The Gervais company sent their cheese to Paris by horse-drawn cart every day. Nowadays, Gervais Petit Suisses are still going strong and are distributed worldwide by slightly more efficient but less environmentally friendly means! Gervais is part of the Bel group.
French people tend to deluge Petit Suisses in sugar to eat them, but I like them as they are. They’re said to be nice with a touch of salt of pepper or a sprinkle of herbs over too. Petit Suisse mixed with mustard makes a tasty coating to meat while it’s cooking and stops it drying out.
It’s very easy to make and easiest of all is if you can get unpasteurised milk. This isn’t a problem in France where you find it in vending machines. You leave a bowl of the raw milk out of the fridge overnight and it should have curdled i.e. set, by morning. Then wrap it in muslin and let it drain for a while so all the whey drips out. Unwrap the cheese, stir in a few spoonfuls of cream and enjoy. If you can only get pasteurised milk, then you need to add some buttermilk or a spoonful of yogurt or other fermented milk product to get the curdling process started. Apart from that, the method is the same. I haven’t made any yet, but now I’ve found these recipes, I shall be. I’m very partial to Petit Suisse.
Finally a question: in which book do you find a character names Petisuix? Answers please!
Today, 2nd July, is Ruadhri’s 10th birthday. That’s huge!
He’s come a long way. He was born six weeks early and his first 48 hours were touch and go. Here’s a picture of him all wired and tubed up in his incubator during his early hours. As you can see he’s a bit gory – they didn’t waste time cleaning him up before they started treating him. He was given caffeine to keep his heart beating, which I’m sure explains why he has always been partial to a nice cup of tea! Ruadhri weighed in at 4 lbs 9 oz, 2.09 kg. How we agonised every ounce that he put on or lost at the time. Each one was so important. He was skin and bone for eight years but is a nice sturdy young man now, thank goodness! I’m obviously eternally grateful to the doctors and nurses at the Bon Secours hospital in Cork for taking care of him.
No party this year, though. Ruadhri and birthday parties haven’t been a good combination and after a major tantrum and sulk at last year’s bash, Chris and I decided enough is enough. There are some things you don’t want to go through again! We’ll have a traditional Dagg birthday tea with pizza, Pringles, home-made cake (by the chef in wellies) and fizzy drinks. And this year, since Caiti has her ice-cream maker, there’ll be ice-cream too. I mean, what more do you need to celebrate?
Ruadhri has spent exactly half of his ten years in Ireland, and half in France. He is a totally French boy now. He’s the most likely of the three to use a French word instead of an English one, or the English version of a French expression. For example, he’ll sometimes say: “I can’t arrive at doing this” instead of “I can’t do this”. The French use the verb ‘arriver’ to mean ‘to acheive/to manage’. He’s addicted to bandes desinnées (comic books) and his four-course school dinners!
Today is the first day of the summer holidays in France. There will be chaos on the roads around Paris and on some stretches of motorway. It will take a few days, but we’ll soon slip into a holiday routine. Computing hours will be strictly controlled! We’re planning lots of bike rides and some days out. Hopefully we’ll have a good few llama trek clients during the summer too.
So lots of reasons to celebrate. Here’s one more – Caitlin’s very own cornflake ice-cream recipe. It’s awesome!
Put 200 ml milk + couple handfuls cornflakes in a bowl and cover and let it soak overnight.
Strain the mixture. Discard the soggy cornflake mush and save the cereal-y milk. Add 200 ml cream to this, a few spoonfuls of creme fraiche, and another 100 ml or so of milk, plus 100 g sugar, or until slightly ‘too’ sweet to taste (when frozen it’ll be a lot less sweet).
Fill another bowl 3/4 full with cornflakes.
Make some caramel. (Caiti is vague about how to make this since she does it without measuring anything out, so best point you to David Lebovitz’s perfect caramel recipe here.) Pour caramel onto cornflakes and mix well so they’re coated, wait ’til the mixture cools and then smash into pieces. Very cathartic.
Pour milk mixture into ice cream maker and let it mix. When ice cream is almost ready, and in the bits of caramel-y cornflakes. If you don’t have an ice-cream maker, put the milk mixture into freezer for an hour or so until it is beginning to freeze, then mix the caramelly cornflakes in. Stir the ice-cream every couple of hours until it has frozen solid.
There’s a lot of advice on the web about table manners in France, many of them implying there’s a lot of formality. Possibly that’s true, I guess I just don’t move in those circles! My own experience has been much more of informality, particularly for the kids.
Now, in Ireland, cooked school dinners don’t exist. For ten years I made packed lunches every schoolday for first one, then two, then three kids. Man, that’s a lot of sandwiches. And as a result of eating out of plastic boxes during their formative years, a lot of Irish kids are a bit vague as to what to do with knives and forks, particularly when so much convenience food is served up at home. My own guys when they were little often ate their tea with a spoon if it was cheesy pasta or something with rice, or with just a fork.
Not so in France. From maternelle upwards, children have a four-course cooked lunch at school which they eat with all the correct implements. The dinner lady sees to that! So even if they live on crisps and burgers at home, they learn how to use tableware. But not in quite the same way as English or Irish people do. The difference lies with the fork. The English way is to hold your fork between your thumb and forefinger and delicately spear your food to hold it still for cutting. Now here Ruadhri here demonstrates la mode française. The fork is gripped in a fist and plunged into whatever it is you want to cut up next. In her early days at school, Caiti would remark on this and think it was bad manners. But it wasn’t long before she was doing the same thing. So at our meals these days, Chris and I eat one way, and the three kids the other! Just another of those funny little cultural differences that make being an ex-pat so interesting.
And since we’re talking about food, I’d better include a recipe. You won’t need your fork for this, though. It’s homemade speculoos spread. Speculoos are spicy, gingery Belgian biscuits, very popular here in France. After Tintin, they’re probably the next best thing to come out of Belgium! You can buy ready-made jars of speculoos spread, but the DIY version is cheaper and tastier in my opinion.
175 g speculoos (or any sort of spicy biscuit)
300 ml of condensed milk (ideally non-sucré, but if you can’t find that, use the ordinary sort)
Crush the biscuits very finely with a rolling pin or blitz them in a food processor. Next, heat up the condensed milk, but don’t let it start to boil. Take the condensed milk off the heat and mix in the biscuit crumbs. Pour into a jar and let it cool to room temperature when it will thick and creamy. Don’t worry about the calories – just enjoy!
I love coming across recipes in blogs, so here is my own contribution to this excellent practice.
I first came across cake au jambon (cheesy ham cake) when we were invited for an apéro by Roger Bleron and his wife. M. Bleron is head of the tourist office in Boussac, and also of the Comité Departmentale de Tourisme de la Creuse, and also of the Conseil Général. He’s a very important man locally, and also extremely pleasant. His wife, a very modern Granny, has bought the petits-enfants to see our llamas any number of times. Although incredibly busy, they found time to welcome us into their home when we were still very new newcomers.
Apéros are interesting. For us, still sticking to Irish eating hours, they’re actually after dinner (we eat around 5), or instead of. But of course for French people, they’re just a little warm up snack. The trick is not to stay too long. Your hosts will inevitably be too polite to tell you to sling your hook so that they can finally have their dinner. So, stay for the time it takes you to drink a glass of wine while chatting, have a few nibbles, and then get up to leave. You’ll definitely be asked back! Don’t get between a hungry neighbour and their food.
I couldn’t get over how delicious Madame Bleron’s cake au jambon was. She had cut small chunks for us to help ourselves to. My children demolished most of it, delightedly urged on by our hostess. I was thrilled when she gave me the recipe as we left.
The chef in wellies, daughter Caiti, whipped up some yesterday, and it is melt in your mouth gorgeous. You really must try it.
Cake au jambon
120 g flour
1 coffee cup milk
1 coffee cup oil (the cake comes out quite oily, so you can adjust this amount down)
1 sachet levure chimique
200g of grated Gruyere (or other cheese)
300g of diced ham.
Mix and leave to rest for 15 minutes. Grease a baking tin/flan dish, pour in your mixture. Cook for around 45 mins at gas 6-7, 200-220 degrees C (hot oven).
The oil in the recipe makes for a light, crispy crust. The ham tends to sink to the bottom but that doesn’t matter. This cake is all about the taste.
Serve it on its own as an apéro, or with salad and mashed potatoes or chips as a main course.
My final bread related blog (I’ve looked at bread ovens and pumpkin bread in earlier posts). A quick look at flour this time.
It’s taken me quite a while, but I’ve finally found out what French flour is all about. Way back when in the UK I used three types – plain, self-raising and bread flour. All very clear and no complications. When we moved to Ireland in 1992 it was easy enough to make the transition to the same three types, but now called cream, self-raising and strong. (Cream had me confused for a little while though.) That’s pretty much all there was, as well as wholemeal. Every passing year saw several new varieties of flour appearing. These days there’s an incredible choice.
Now, flours come in types over here. Each type has a number and the higher the number, the less refined the flour. Type 55 is the most common one you’ll find – this is pretty much plain or cream flour. You add your own raising agent to make it into self-raising. Type 45 is a finer flour recommended for cakes. Type 65 is good for bread. The coarsest wholemeal, hard to find in supermarkets, is type 150.
Flour is often marked as ‘fluide’ which means free-flowing, or ‘anti-gremaux’ which means no lumps. A few other useful words to know are ‘sazzarin’ – buckwheat; ‘orge’ – barley; ‘seigle’ – rye; complète – granary.
Supermarket flour is incredibly cheap, around 39 centimes for a kg. However, I’ve made the move to flours produced at local minoteries (flour mills). These are more expensive but consistently fabulous. Christophe Chaussé’s are my favourites at the moment, especially the amazing farine chataignes, figues et noisettes. Here’s a recipe for a gateau using this flour, but if you don’t have anything similar, plain flour will work fine. (It just won’t be quite as tasty!)
You will need:4 eggs, 200 g sugar, 175 g butter, 300 g farine, small cup of mik, dessertspoon of oil, 1 sachet of levure chimique (raising agent)
Separate the eggs and beat the egg yolks, sugar and melted butter together. Next add the flour, milk, oil and levure. Finally, stir in the beaten egg whites. Pour into a cake tin and cook for 40 minutes at 200 degrees C. Delicious!
I have been tripping over the four pumpkins in our kitchen since mid-October! There were a lot more than 4 originally, but our pumpkin consumption seems to have mysteriously slowed down of late. So I’ve found a recipe for pain à la citrouille – French Pumpkin Bread – to get pumpkin back on the menu and from under my feet. It’s actually a soft, spongey cake and very tasty.
So, if you still have some pumpkins to process, or rather more pumpkin purée in your freezer than you’d like, give it a try.
500 g pumpkin purée
2 beaten eggs
100 g soft butter
250 g flour
1 sachet of levure chimique if you’re in France – UK, half a teaspoon of baking powder
Generous pinches of cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg
Preheat over to 180°C.
Mix the purée, eggs, butter and sugar together in one bowl. In another, combine the flour, raising agent and spices. Slowly beat the puree into the dry ingredients. Pour into a cake tin and cook for around 50 minutes until golden brown.
August begins with my birthday, which the rest of the family are generally much keener to celebrate than I am! But you can’t stop time, so you might as well enjoy its passing. Caiti cooked up a lovely birthday feast for our evening party. She made goat’s cheese and tomato flan
Heat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease and flour two 20 cm (approx.) cake tins.
Mix the sugar into the softened butter, then add the eggs. Add half the flour and mix well.
Now add half the milk and beat well. When it’s smooth add the rest of the ingredients.
Pour into the two tins and back 50 mins or so until golden brown and springy to the touch.
Sandwich together with jam or butter icing, and add icing on top of
100 g icing sugar and 50 g shredded or desiccated coconut with enough water to bind.
Add some chunks of mango too.
Every household needs a cook like our Caits!
The celebrations continue. Yesterday we got some very good news. Every gite gets its guests from hell, and ours came last year. They walked out within the hour complaining that just about everything wasn’t up to their ‘expectations’. Anyway, we have had to put up with a lot of ghastly unpleasantness which culminated in them making a claim against us through the European Small Claims Court on the grounds of misrepresentation. The judge dismissed their claim – totally, completely and utterly. There is justice in the world after all.
Our wedding anniversary is on its way on the 9th. We’ll have clocked up 24 years. A search online tells me that traditional gifts for 24th anniversaries are musical instruments. (I have no idea why, though, nor how authentic this might be.) But I’ll be OK as I have a good stock of South American musical instruments in my llama souvenir shop. I’m sure Chris will like some panpipes or a rattle made with tree seeds or maybe even a tarka (not an otter, but a Peruvian wooden recorder)!
Family and friends are arriving this month, either returning to their holiday homes or staying with us. It will be lovely to see familiar faces again. And of course any longed-for non-French groceries they may happen to bring with them! And another public holiday on the 15th. So plenty to smile about in August.
The cherry trees are overloaded with fruit this year. It’s quite a surprise given that it was such a long, cold winter. But I’m delighted – I love cherries.
Caitlin made a gorgeous cherry clafoutis for us a few days ago. Clafoutis originated in Limousin, our part of France, sometime in the mid nineteenth century. The name comes from the French verb ‘clafir’ which means ‘to fill’. It’s a dessert consisting of fruit cooked in a sort of thick batter. Pretty much any fruit can be used, but cherry and plum are the most usual. The secret with cherry clafoutis is to leave the cherry stones in when you make the dessert as it adds an almondy flavour and also stops cherry juice from making the batter too soggy. It’s a bit tricky to eat though, with all the stones, but worth the effort. Obviously it’s not something to give to small children like that.
Here is Caiti’s recipe. I really recommend you try this. Absolutely delicious.
200g flour, 120 g sugar, 3 eggs, 75 g melted butter, 250 ml milk, 400 g cherries
Combine flour and sugar. Mix in the eggs, one at a time. Beat well. When the batter is smooth, add the melted butter, then slowly add the milk. Keep beating well so that there aren’t any lumps. Spread the cherries over the base of a bowl and then pour in the batter mix. Bake for half an hour at 200 degrees C.