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I thought it was about time that I told you about my lovely food memories from my holidays in the Loire Valley in France. The Loire is about five hours drive south into France and slightly to the west side. It hugs ‘The Loire’ a stunning river that is the longest in France. The part where we stay near Saumur is dotted with chateaux and vineyards, and chalky white buildings.
As a child I used to go to the south of France with my family every May half term, but the Loire is a relatively new discovery and N and I have been twice. I never thought I would want to return to the same place, what with holidays being so rare and costly, and there being so many places to visit, but last summer we knew that we wanted to go back for a second time. We ended up in the Loire after I found this pretty little campsite on an internet search – Le Chant D’Oiseau.
Many of our holidays are chosen by beautiful places to stay – we find somewhere that we think “we’d really like to stay there” and then we look at what the areas like, then off we go. We are now good friends with the English family that run Le Chant D’Oiseau and would highly recommend it if you are looking for a home-away-from-home; a relaxing retreat; or a safe, family-friendly site. They also have really nice gites if you want a few more luxuries.
N and I camp. I am currently of the mind that France is the only place I’m really happy to camp, as the weather is pretty much guaranteed to be nice during the summer hols. A fair weather camper, is me.
Going back for a second year meant that we knew quite a few places that we liked, and it was nice to know that we sort of knew our way around a bit. However, since the first time we went my passion for all things edible has increased so now most of the holiday was based around food – markets, lunch, dinner, local food production etc. I have to remind myself that it’s N’s holiday too and that he might like to do something other than trek round France looking for a small village that produces poires tapées…
Poires tapées is a unique way of preparing pears (and apples – pommes tapées) from a village called Rivarennes. The pears are scalded and peeled before they are cleaned and put into a furnace. From my understanding, the furnace is there to dry the pears out, not cook them. A couple of days later the pears are pressed using an unusually wooden device called a ‘platissoire’ that presses them flat, hence the ‘tapées’ part.
In Rivarennes we went to a small cottage where they used to make poires tapées and watched a short video on its history, and then got to try some of the products they make with the pears. We were given a whole pear that had been rehydrated in red wine…blimey it was strong and I only managed to nibble at mine (I’m not a red wine drinker). Then they gave us these little bowls with diced dry pear – each bowl had a different variety of pear and it was really interesting to taste the differences between the varieties. My favourite was the funny sounding Queue de Rat.
So where else did our food travels in the Loire take us… Well, we fell in love with two pretty towns right on the banks of the Loire – Montsoreau…
We ended up spending a large part of our holiday here, whether it be wandering the quiet streets of Candes-Saint-Martin and dreaming of living in some of the stunning houses, or sitting up on top of the huge hill that overlooked the towns and the Loire with stunning views.
Many a cheese and saucisson picnic was eaten in the dappled shade on this hill.
In Montsoreau we found a popular little cafe that was full of locals and therefore bound to be pretty decent food. We ate here twice in the end, because the food was honest and tasty, and the waitress was extremely friendly and tolerant of our attempts to order in French (we’re not that bad I don’t think…). If I remember correctly, I think we ate the same food both times – very adventurous of us, I know. I had Croque Monsieur (yum, yum, yum) and N finished off a big plate of Steak Frites. It was some of the best cooked steak he’s ever had, almost mooing on the plate!
We also had starters of locally-grown mushrooms in a simple vinaigrette sauce (can’t remember the details of it which is a shame), but it was really good. There are lots of caves along the banks of the Loire, some were used as dwellings (troglodytes) and others are now used to grow mushrooms in. Lots of mushrooms.
We went into the mushroom caves on our first visit to the Loire, which was back in 2006, so I can’t remember the types of mushrooms. But this is how they grow shitake type mushrooms…
I’ve realised that on two trips to the Loire there is quite a lot of lovely food experiences to share. For now I shall leave it here, and will post Part 2 in a couple of days, and I shall tell you about possibly my favourite place to eat ever. The place I would go back to for my last meal.
Have a great weekend!
At the bottom of my garden, nestling in amongst a forest of leaves beautiful fruits are starting to blush. This evening there were just enough for a small bowlful of strawberries. More and more alpine strawberries appear as you rustle through the leaves, and some are as big as N’s thumbnail. Their flavour is so intense I just love them.
You know it’s a good start to the day, when wondering to the bottom of the garden to harvest a lettuce for lunch you can stop to snack on freshly podded peas and the odd alpine strawberry.
My vegetable garden is really starting to produce now. This week I have pulled the first spring onions and the first proper harvest of carrots.
The spring onions are Paris Silverskin onions, which bulb up for pickling, and are I have discovered quite mild in taste. They are so beautiful and perfectly formed.
The carrots are Paris Market Baron’s which are (like the spring onions) bulbous. Rather than growing downwards they plump up into tubby round orange roots. They are beautifully sweet and have matured much quicker than my Rainbow carrots which are still developing.
Here are the first thinnings of the Rainbow carrots. I was them under the outside tap and munch on the tiny sweet roots. The carrot tops and any carrots too tiny for me are given to the lucky bunnies.
And here is Lovage wondering why I keep trying to take his picture…
Who could image that just two ingredients – egg and butter – could create such a delicious, moreish meal? N was anti-scrambled egg when I first met him. After finally managing to get him to try a mouthful of my scrambled egg, he can now be heard asking for it without any prompting at all!
Scrambled egg on toast, made with love and care, and not cooked to within an inch of its life, should not be dismissed purely as a side to a fried breakfast. Scrambled egg on toast can make a scrumptious and filling meal all by itself – at least in my opinion.
Using high quality eggs is essential for producing the tastiest scrambled egg possible. Organic, free range, rare breed/heritage or woodland eggs are your best bet. Or if you’re lucky enough to have your own chickens, home produced. We used free range organic eggs from Abbey Leys Farm.
Now I never really understood why recipes call for a ‘heavy based’ pan, but for scrambled egg it really makes a difference. If you use one that has a thin base (like my cheapo supermarket milk pan that I still have from university) then the egg at the bottom cooks too quickly and can burn and stick to the pan. A pan with a thicker base will cook the egg slower and more gently.
So, to make my scrambled egg I melt a good sized knob of butter in a heavy based saucepan. When the butter has melted and starts to gently bubble I crack in my eggs. Please note, I do not whisk up my eggs and pour them into the pan. I simply crack the whole eggs directly into the pan.
Now, the important bit – allow the eggs to cook everso slightly. You can burst the yolks if you like, but try and let the white, well turn white – like when you fry and egg. Now, give it a gentle mix (I used a metal spoon). Then let it cook some more. Then another gentle mix.
By adding the eggs whole to the pan, and gently breaking them up as they cook results in a chunky scrambled egg where some bits are white, some bits are golden, and some are milky yellow combination of the two. I think it makes for a much more interesting scrambled egg rather than one uniform taste and texture.
Have the heat on about a medium, but if the egg starts to stick to the bottom of the pan, remove it from the heat briefly and continue mixing. I do this back and forward, on and off the heat until it reaches the texture I like.
I like my scrambled eggs moist but not too runny, and certainly not dried out. The egg should slide off the spoon, not plop off like lumps of jelly. I know everyone has their own preferences, but if you usually cook your scrambled egg a bit longer, just try it more moist, just once. When I first tried cooking scrambled egg like this I couldn’t believe how different it tasted.
Once the egg is cooked, stir in a good grinding of black pepper and salt to taste. As with most food, I tend to be a purist and refuse to add too many embellishments, but yesterday I added some freshly snipped chives from the garden. Chives are an ideal paring for egg and provided an interesting taste addition to our scrambled egg.
Butter some slithers of toast and spoon the scrambled egg over the top.
My perfect scrambled egg
Serves 2 for lunch
A knob of butter
In a heavy based saucepan melt a good sized knob of butter over a medium heat. When it starts to bubble crack the eggs into the pan.
Allow the eggs to cook a little before bursting the yolks and giving them a gentle mix. Leave again to cook a little, and then mix gently. If the egg starts to stick to the bottom, remove from the heat and mix. Keep the egg mixture moving, but do so gently until it reaches a moist sloppy consistency.
Stir in some ground black pepper and salt to taste. If you are using chives, snip into the egg and mix.
Spoon the scrambled egg over a couple of slices of buttered toast.
Tuesday night was the event that I’ve been working towards for the past year. The culmination of a year’s volunteering for my local branch of CPRE(Campaign to Protect Rural England), single-handedly running their local food work. We have been running ‘Buy Local’ Food Awards to celebrate the fantastic work of businesses in Cheshire that grow/sell us great local food.
The event was a combined effort from myself and Helen Meade, who is the Regional Co-ordinator for the CPRE ‘Mapping Local Food Webs’project which is being rolled out across England. Helen has been running a pilot project in Knutsford, and with my local food awards coming to an end, it was a perfect opportunity to join forces and put on a lovely event.
We have been busy advertising the event through our different networks, but we still didn’t know how many people would turn up – I think we were hopefully for 30 (my secret goal was 50 though). We had a number of interested businesses who offered to bring along samples of their food, and all five of our award winners were able to come.
So Tuesday evening finally rolled around. My car was filled with tablecloths, earthenware vases, chalkboards and hedgerow flowers (a mixture of elderflowers, daisies, grasses, and cow parsley). We had about an hour and a half to set the room up, with the normal hiccups (no glasses or cutlery…aah!).
Businesses started arriving and setting up their displays of food, leaflets and samples of food – yumm! We had Riverford Organic:
One of our ‘Buy Local’ Food Award winners – Riverside Organic – brought some baskets of the seasonal produce grown on their farm. We also had sausage rolls from another of our winners H Clewlow Butchers, homemade gooseberry fool (I really want this recipe!) from the Walton Lea Project also an award winner, homemade cakes from Abbey Leys Farm, and chutneys and jams from a lovely company that I don’t know the name of!
Over 50 people turned out for the event, which is more than we ever imagined, so are so pleased and hope that people enjoyed the evening. It was so lovely to see my local food awards come a glorious end with the winners accepting their awards. I have really enjoyed running the awards but it has been exhausting at times, so I’m looking forward to a month off from volunteering before I start planning my next project.
There should be some professional photographs available soon as a journalist from the local paper came along to the event. If and when they are available I will post them or a link to them.
This is just a quick post to share with you a couple of cool things I’ve stumbled across on the web this week, and thought that they might be of interest to others. Am hoping to head out into the garden later today (I see blue sky peeking through the clouds!), and I desperately need to rescue my peas as they are listing to one side after the terrible winds we’ve had this week. I also have a few pictures of my ‘Local Food Celebration’ from Tuesday night to share so will try and post them later.
In the meantime, I found this website called Dinner4Good, which allows you to raise money by having dinner with your friends. From what I can see, you invite your friends round for dinner in aid of a charity, and your friends donate money through the website. The website allows you to send invites and for your friends to donate via it, so there’s no awkward moment at your dinner party where your rattling a bucket asking for loose change. The Soil Association are linked up with the website, which is how I found out about the website, so get cooking people and raise some money for your favourite charity!
The other neat thing I found this week is a fun poster guide to eating seasonally from the website Eat Seasonably. I love the design of it and how it almost looks/reads like a poem. Print off a copy and stick it up in your kitchen.
It has been months since N baked homemade bread, but last night, prompted by a cube of fresh yeast, he got baking again. There was a near disaster at first, when the bread didn’t rise. We think it’s because the recipe we were following (find it here) called for dry yeast and we used fresh. On searching the internet I found out you need to use a lot more fresh yeast than dried…so while N started a fresh batch, I searched to find out if we could rescue the original batch. Turns out you can, thanks to those helpful people on the Jamie Oliver forums.
We ended up with two delicious loaves rather than one, neither of which were disastrous, and in fact were probably the best loaves we’ve made. We followed the recipe, misting the oven with water and the loaves before popping them in to bake. It produced the most fantastic crust, so we’ll definitely be using that technique again.
So, there you have it – my favourite meal…ever: still warm homemade bread smeared (generously, of course) with lightly salted farmhouse butter. Mmmmm mm.
*Note: we used white bread flour and didn’t follow the rye flour coating.
So the Mexican party last night was lovely, lots of sombreros and homemade ponchos, Maria brought maracas, and we ate a lot of chilli, baked potatoes, tortilla chips and wraps. Ours friends Katie and Kate, who’s party it was, have just finished doing their back yard and it looked stunning – they’ve painted the walls a cream colour and trellis in a mossy green, they’ve put some decking down and built raised beds that are full of interesting plants. It was just a really lovely place to sit out with friends.
Here are some pretty flowers and herbs from my garden that I made into a posy for our friends as a gift. This little bunch was so fragrant – with lavender, sweetpeas, marjoram and mint – I would definitely recommend using popping a couple of sprigs of herbs into a bunch of flowers.
Today has been another warm day in Cheshire, so N and I headed straight down to the allotment to trim the long grass, water and put in a few more plants I’ve been growing from seedlings.
The strawberries we inherited on the allotment are plumping up nicely, we are just waiting for then to start blushing and turning red…and hope the rabbits don’t get to them first!
The purple sprouting broccoli (the green plant towards the back of the pic) has shot up since we last went down, and Maria’s brussel sprout plants (the purple plant in the foreground) are looking equally healthy. Even the three smaller plants that aren’t enclosed by my snazzy wire fence are doing well and haven’t (yet! touchwood!) been decimated by the rabbits.
I also discovered a number of small cabbage white caterpillars on one of the broccoli plants, so I have carefully pinched the leaves off, brought the caterpillars home and have lovingly encouraged them onto some of my nasturtium plants. Mad you may say, why didn’t I “dispose” of them you ask, well I like butterflies and I’m happy to sacrifice some of my nasturtiums for them.
Some of the sweetcorn (like this one) are doing well, others look a bit piddly, but rumour has it we’ve got rain this week, so hopefully that might pick the smaller ones up a little.
N cleared a patch of ground where pumpkins had previously been grown, and I planted four Uchi Kuri pumpkin plants that I have tended from seed. In between them I also dug in a couple of nasturtiums because I just love the way they trail and ramble over everything and their jolly flowers.
So overall the allotment is looking pretty good, taking into consideration that this year we just haven’t had the time to clear and tidy it properly. Rather things are just growing between the tall grasses and weeds, but growing they are. Next year we will work on making it look pretty and neat.
Tonight we are off out to visit friends for dinner – they are having a Mexican party and I can’t wait to find out what delicious food we’ll be eating.
But before that, I’m heading out to our May Queen Festival to help out on a stall to promote my ‘really local food map’ for our village. I’ve got a large map of the village and surrounding area and am armed with some sticky tabs – hopefully people will write down places they know that sell local food and pop them on the map. At least it’s sunny for the parade, so I’m sure there will be a good turn out of people.
I will leave you with a photo of the first homegrown carrot of the year – it’s a round and stumpy Paris Market Baron and so so sweet. Yum! Have a lovely day!
It’s been a busy week here with work, voluntary stuff after work, and dinner with friends. Tuesday evening N and I went to a talk by Guy Watson at Hullabaloo Cafe – we had slow roasted pork for tea and a really enjoyable evening. He led a great talk about organic growing, and people offered up some interesting questions that sparked a good debate. Plus we came away with a freebie bag of gorgeous looking broccoli.
With my garden overflowing with lettuce in multiple forms, I thought it only right to dedicate a post to it entirely. What follows is my way of preparing a good green salad, from tender leaf plucked from the garden to delicious bowl of goodness.
The key to a good green salad is the leaves themselves. When you’ve eaten lettuce picked only seconds before from the place it was growing, you will never look at bagged supermarket salad in the same way. It just doesn’t compare. There is none of that slightly chemical odour as you open the bag, even if it claims it’s only been washed in ‘spring water’. There are no slightly limp mushy bits that collect at the bottom. Freshly picked leaves are pert and crisp, and full of insense flavour.
If the weather has been dry and you are lucky enough to have escaped the dratted green fly, you most likely will be able to pluck your leaves and pop them straight into your serving bowl. If, however, it has rained recently and earth has splattered your leaves, or if like me you find the odd gang of aphids hiding amongst the folds of your lettuce, it is probably necessary to rinse your leaves. We have recently invested in a rather ‘cool’ salad spinner, which is really too trendy and slightly out of place in our cosy cottage. It is, however, a fantastic piece of gadgetry.
So to begin with, I insist on carefully picking through each leaf, searching for bugs and carefully washing each leaf before placing them into the salad spinner basket – N is much more casual about this stage of salad making much to my distress. I give them a good whiz, before draining off the water, and rinsing the whole basket of leaves again and giving them another whiz in the spinner. I drain any water out again, and give the leaves a final spin to get them really dry. And that’s the leaf preparation done.
As for my salad dressing of choice, it tends to fall to the same line up of ingredients: lemon juice, white wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey/agave syrup, salt, pepper and olive oil. You may have realised by now that I am not one for measuring – I favour tasting and instict over exact amounts, so please bear with me as I try and describe how much of what to add!
My favourite salad dressing recipe
Into a clean jam jar (one with a lid) I add a good squeeze of lemon juice and an equal amount of white wine vinegar. Then I add around a teaspoon of Dijon mustard and a teaspoon of honey/agave syrup (at the moment I am favouring the agave syrup – which is made from a cactus – as it has a lighter, cleaner taste whereas honey often is too sweet and overpowering). To this I add a good pinch or two of salt and a good grinding of black pepper. Finally I top it all up with olive oil – I tend to work on the general salad dressing notion of more oil than vinegar, so it’s usually around 1/3 vinegar and lemon juice and 2/3 oil. Screw on the lid and give it a good shake. It should be a very pale yellow colour and a slightly creamy consistency. The best bet is to try it – if you like the taste great, if not, adjust the seasoning – a little more salt, a dab more Dijon, etc, until it taste nice.
Pop your lovingly prepared salad into a serving bowl and drizzle over your dressing. Any leftover dressing will keep well in the jar in the fridge.