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After a breakfast of croissants, stocking opening and snacking on multiple treats, we don’t normally need much more for Christmas day lunch than a big plate of smoked salmon to share.

Father Christmas (thanks Mr Rigg’s mommy) sent us a gorgeous side of smoked salmon, and what couple be easier than thinly sliced seeded rye bread, thinly smeared with salty butter and spritzed with lemon juice.

Sometimes I like to grate a little lemon zest over the top, but this time I took some inspiration from my new Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals book and sprinkled over some crisp green cress. 

That little bit of greenery helped lift my feelings after so much rich and sugary food.

All helped down with a nice glass of special fizz, bought all the way back from a holiday in the Loire Valley.

13/01/11 – somehow this post was published as January 2010…rather than January 2011 – I just found it in the wrong place!

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foodmemoriesloire

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

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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. 

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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…

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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. 

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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.

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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…

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…and Candes-Saint-Martin. 

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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. 

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Many a cheese and saucisson picnic was eaten in the dappled shade on this hill.

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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! 

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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.

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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…

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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!

On this rainy, bitterly cold day I thought I would like to write about some of the vegetable gardens that I have seen on my travels.  I have decided to start in France, more specifically in the Loire Valley region, which is where I have stayed on my last two visits.  We camp at a delightful, intimate campsite run by an expat-English family – we can highly recommend it to anyone who’s looking for a rustic, relaxing break.  The campsite is called Le Chant D’Oiseau and more info can be found at http://www.loire-gites.com/.

Anyways, back to vegetable gardens.  Our visit at the end of the summer was full of diverting down side streets and peering over walls to see what other people were growing in their gardens.  The hot summer weather in the Loire allows for tomatoes such as these to thrive, which makes me incredibly jealous as I think back to my poor attempts.

big round juicy tomatoes :: Loire Valley, France ::

This small vegetable garden in a small hillside town on the banks of Loire river shows that the smallest of spaces can be productive – look at those squash plants!  I was very curious about the number of plants and herbs that were dug into the ground in pots…any suggestions as to why?

small town garden :: Loire Valley, France ::

We passed the pumpkin below on a scenic (or perhaps slightly lost) route we took through some vineyards, and N was instructed to pull over while I ran back to get a photo.  Consequently, we discovered a beautiful old property opposite the pumpkin patch that we fell in love with and momentarily lost our heads in gidding thoughts of selling up and moving to rural France.  I shall never forget that house with its warm sunbathed courtyard. 

orange pumpkin :: lost in the Loire Valley, France ::

lettuce :: Saumur market, the Loire Valley ::

As I sit at home recovering from an operation to remove one of wisdom teeth (eugh!) I am again thinking about happier times and things.  It is drizzling outside and I have let one of my bunnies out to roam the garden, although I’m sure he’s in fact hunkering down in his cosy house. 

Last night as I tried to get off to sleep I was thinking about the local farmers markets and the different markets I’ve been to around the UK and abroad, and ultimately got to thinking what it is that makes a great farmers market.  I have come to the conculsion it is vegetables.  There are some delicious offerings at farmers markets – homemade pies, deep ruby coloured streaky bacon, and crusty sourdoughs – but for me, a table heaped with fresh, straight from the earth, picked that morning vegetables is what I’m really after. 

My local farmers market it really good and swarming with people long before their advertised opening time, and has for sale many of those fantastic products I listed previously, but it does lack exciting vegetables.  There are two markets which stick out in my mind for great, stomach-tingling vegetables: Stroud Farmers Market (in Gloucestershire) and the Saturday market in Saumur (a bit far to go for most UK shoppers as it’s in the Loire Valley in France).  When I think back to my visits to these markets, it’s vegetables that I’m dreaming of – crisp lettuce the size of mixing bowls, boxes full of peas, heaps of heirloom tomatoes, new potatoes covered in soil. 

Vegetables are at the heart of what we eat, they make up (or at least should I believe) the bulk of our meals and can be so exciting.  Having a wide choice of vegetables encourages me to be creative, to eat simple, clean, refreshing food.  Some of my best meals have been made without a kitchen, just a bowl of beautiful vegetables, a sharp knife, some seasoning and perhaps the odd barbque-singed sausage and hunk of gooey cheese for good measure.  These are my best food memories.

simple tomato salad :: France ::

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Eat the Earth

I love food, especially locally grown and seasonal food. This is my place to share my food finds and the food I like to eat.

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