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During our travels last weekend, we visited Mr Rigg’s granny and went out for lunch with her.  We went to The White Oak in Cookham and ate the most delicious lunch.

Now we’ve been to The White Oak once before, but it was on such a sad occasion following a funeral that I can’t remember the food.  However, this time the food will stick with me for a long time.  It was superb. 

Not only has this pub been lovingly refurbished, but the staff are so friendly and polite and the food utterly scrumptious.  Sadly I have no photos of our meal, but Mr Rigg and his granny ate beer-battered fish and chips which was served on a wooden board, the chips (which were excellent) came in a tiny metal bucket. 

For my meal I choose a vegetarian main of Parmesan gnocchi in a winter vegetable broth.  When it arrived it the portion seemed quite small compared to the hunks of batter fish beside me.  However, it was delicate, delicious, beautifully presented, and incredibly tasty.  Just three homemade Parmesan gnocchi sat upon a heap of tiny cubed vegetables surrounded by a pool of clear broth.  Wow – just excellent food.

It was the kind of food I would like to eat every night of the week, but I’m quite sure it would take me many years to learn how to make gnocchi so soft and melt in the mouth, and a clear broth packed with oodles of flavour.  I guess I had better get started!

Images: The UK Restaurant Guide

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This week is all about eating lettuce.  We have some lovely gem lettuces that I’ve grown in the garden, but they are all starting to go wild and therefore we need to eat them – and soon!

So we got out the recipe books and here’s what we came up with…

So far we’ve eaten a salad of lettuce, peas and ham; wilted lettuce with broad beans which we teamed up with a quick ham omelette; and the lettuce risotto became a barley risotto with lettuce, pea tendrils, spring onions and peas.

Recipes to follow later this week, but here’s a sneak peek…

A salad of  lettuce, peas and ham

Wilted lettuce with broad beans and a ham omelette

Barley risotto with lettuce, pea tendrils, spring onions and peas

foodmemoriesloire

So a couple of days turned into over a month!  I just get so swept away with all the other lovely food related activities in my kitchen, garden and on the allotment that I completely forget these other things I promise.  If you’re just joining us, you can read Part 1 of my food memories in the Loire valley here.

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I shall begin where I left off, which was in a beautiful little town on the banks of the Loire called Candes St Martin.  This was where I ate probably the best food ever in the most lovely setting.  Now don’t be expecting some Michellin starred restaurant or stunning views, this was a small, family-run affair tucked away up the back streets.

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I am a big fan of all things old, vintage and love carboot sales and junk shops.  N got rather fed up on this holiday as I had done my research and discovered the French word ‘brocante’ which is along the lines of a flea market/garage sale/table top sale/antiquey-junk shop. 

So every where we went I was scouring the countryside and towns for signs reading ‘brocante’.  I found quite a few, and N was a lovely boyfriend and turned off down winding side streets and pulled over at the side of the road numerous times in the search for lovely old French ‘things’. 

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So whilst wandering along the quiet streets of Candes St Martin I spotted a sign in a little shop window.  Now it wasn’t really a shop, more a window displaying items sold in a shop that wasn’t on that premises.  Much like if I popped a whole load of vintage items in my front window. 

The sign in the window was a deep burgundy red, and mentioned a brocante and salon de thé 500m up the hill.  So off we went – N encouraged by the promise of a cool drink and bit to eat.

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At the top of the hill in amongst the houses, set off a sleepy little square, there it was – Table de Matiéres – La Brocante Gourmande

Past the lovely old white stone walls, you entered a pretty little courtyard.  It was full of sprawling nasturtiums and hollyhocks bobbing in the breeze.  A random assortment of chairs and tables were set out, some with pretty tablecloths.  In amongst them were old bedsteads with peeling pink paint and vintage fruit crates. 

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The courtyard was framed on one side by a huge stone wall that seemed to be holding the hillside back.  The owner’s house was to one corner and built up against the side of the hill. 

At the other end of the coutryard was a wooden fronted building that disappeared into the hill.  This was the Brocante Gourmande.  It was full of old treasures and vintage books.  It went way back, with small rooms off it that were dug into the hillside.

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I was instantly in love.  Food and vintage finds all in one place – what a dream come true.  We visited Table de Matiéres more than once, and came away with a couple of old fruit crates with lovely vintage labels on the front, and two pretty bird prints – one of swallows and one of two doves.  I think that was all I was allowed…but I could have bought so much more.

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Then to the food.  The menu sounded delicious, it was one of those rare menus where you read it and think you would happily eat anything and everything on it.  Cassolette de charcuterie…Croq d’été…Assiette de tomatoes, feta, carpaccio de canard…Tarte aux prunes…

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N and I decided on a simple lunch of a shared plate of cheeses, N accompanied his with a glass of rosé and I couldn’t resist the scrumptious sounding milkshake pêche.  Now this milkshake was divine.  I even wrote some notes down after drinking in an attempt to pin down the flavours in it.  It didn’t taste like a normal milkshake, it was more like a combination of milk and yoghurt, with fresh peaches in it.  One day I shall try and recreate it. 

The planche de fromages was simply presented on a wooden board.  There was a selection of four cheeses and a pot of crusty baguette.  I wish I had asked the owner to write down the names of the cheeses, as they were so tasty, but I didn’t, and shall forever regret it. 

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Now, I realise it doesn’t sound like we actually ate much, and you might ask “how on earth” can I come to the conclusion that this was the best food I’ve ever eaten, when all I ate was a plate of cheese. 

Well, that’s the mystery of our memories – I simply remember this experience of eating good, simple food in the most delightful of places as heaven.  I shall never forget it and it will stay imprinted on my memory in such a way that on the gloomiest of days I still conjure up that lovely eating experience.

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What was also so special was that it was run by an ordinary seeming couple out of their home.  When the husband took our order, he went up a flight of stone steps and into what must have been their kitchen.  You could hear his wife preparing the food, you could tell the quality of the produce from the small menu they offered, and it was just such a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere.

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So if you’re ever in the Loire and happen upon this pretty little town of Candes St Martin, make sure you drive up the steep winding road to the top of the hill, park under the large shady tree on the square, and wander along the road to Table de Matiéres – you can’t miss it, you will see the vintage ephemera tumbling out of the gateway and its turquoise green gates beckoning you in.

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Check back soon for the next part of my food memories from France

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So…the long promised Mother’s Day lunch.  I think I even managed to scrape by as the serene hostess I was aspiring to – by 10.30am I had prepped ALL my vegetables, the pie was made bar the pastry top, and I was nearly ready to ice my cake.  Things I nearly slipped up on: almost completely forgot about my soup starter (eek!); forgot to take the butter out of the fridge to soften for my icing, so reluctantly had to shove it in the oven on a very low temperature; and we didn’t have any nibbles.  Otherwise, I think it was a success – I was especially pleased with my pie.

For starters we had a bowl of pea soup – which is one of my storecupboard favourites and is dead easy to make.  Simply bung a load of frozen peas (!! I know, frozen, but they taste great and there’s no way I would sacrifice freshly podded peas from the garden to soup, they rarely make it as far as the kitchen anyway) into a saucepan – if you want to measure your peas out, a good way to do this would measure them into your soup bowls to the level you would like the soup.  Crumble an organic chicken stock cube (I know…another cheats item, but this is a storecupboard recipe and sometimes we all need a night off) over the peas and pour over boiling water, just enough to cover the peas.  Bring to the boil, and simmer for a couple of minutes.  Turn the heat off, blitz up the peas – the longer you blitz the smoother the soup (I feel it tastes better as smooth as possible).  Mix a spoonful of natural yohurt in to give a subtly creamy hint and season to taste with salt and pepper.  I served our soup topped with a garnish of sunflower seed sprouts, which was a bit ponsy, and quite difficult to eat.  N’s mom described it as ‘spaghetti’.  Not quite what I was going for…  Next time I would probably opt for some chopped parsley.

pea soup

pea soup

For mains I created a chicken pie.  Pie was perfect as it gave me a better chance to be a more visible hostess, rather than the one previously described waving from the kitchen door as our family arrived.  I had looked at so many chicken pies recipes, but none I really wanted to make.  Menus seem to come upon me, from nowhere, just a lot of thinking and looking at what’s available at the grocers or markets, and then it suddenly all makes sense.  So the ‘spring’ part of this chicken pie came from the vibrant greens that are at my local shops at the moment.  Spring greens, savoy cabbages, leeks, kale, and the first of the French parsley.  What I envisionaged was a chicken pie that was bursting with greeness that is filling the hedgerows and lanes as we progress into Spring.

You can find the recipe for how to make my Spring Chicken Pie here.

honey and walnut cake
honey and walnut cake

And finally, for dessert we had a honey and walnut cake with a lemon frosting.  This was a deep golden coloured cake, that was flecked with walnut.  I changed a recipe for a plain honey cake, initially wanting to add some lavender to it, but discovered that my lavender was out of date and had lost its smell.  Instead I used some walnuts that I chopped up quite finely as N is not a nut fan.  The cake really needs the lemon juice in the frosting otherwise it’s way too sweet – or maybe you have a super sweet tooth and then it would be fine.  But the lemon frosting adds a really nice dimension to the cake.  I decorated our cake with lilac hyacinth flowers and minature daffodil heads.  Sadly they weren’t edible, but soon the viola’s and heartease will be flowering and I can make you a cake with edible flowers, which is truly stunning.  I will post the honey and walnut cake in a future posting, so be sure to check back soon if you fancy making it yourself.

On Sunday N’s parents are visiting us for Mother’s Day lunch and to see our newly decorated bedroom.  What I’ve failed to mention in the last week, or in fact, since I started this blog, is that we do a lot of DIY.  Our house is a work in progress, like many people’s, and there is always something to do to it.  Since becoming a homeowner I feel like I have quickly progressed from young and carefree into a fully fledged adult.  All those decisions I remember my parents making – do we go on holiday…or do we put in new windows… are choices I am now having to make.  And with a love of my ‘home’ and wanting to make it as nice as possible the new windows ususually trump the holiday. 

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So, the past two weeks have been spent decorating a bedroom that we gutted last year (the second bedroom that we have gutted I might add).  The last bedroom took us a year from the first hammer hit into the crumbling plaster to carpeted and curtains up (still no light fitting though…)  We were determined that this one wouldn’t take as long, and it seems that the only way we can get anything done is to set ourselves an immovable deadline.  I know…invite parents round to see the ‘finished’ room.  Last night I believe, I hope! that I painted my last inch of wall.  Tonight we will hoover it and prepare it for the new carpet that is being fitted tomorrow.

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Anyway, back to Mother’s Day and food more importantly.  N’s mom is a fantastic cook – which I’ve probably mentioned before – and a serene hostess.  I long for the day when I am that calm to have everything prepped and probably mostly cooked by the time my guests arrive.  I usually greet my guests by sticking my head around the kitchen door, hands covered in flour or madly dicing carrots, and hollering ‘hello!’  I really enjoy anybody coming round for lunch as I love to entertain and feed people.  Usually by this time – with about two days to go – I have planned the meal and got at least half of the ingredients for it.  Currently, I have zilch.  And a very hungry looking fridge that contains some chorizo sausage, a piece of stilton and some yoghurt.  Not exactly the stuff of Mother’s Day lunches to impress the in-laws.

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Which is why I’m madly searching my recipe folder searching desperately for some inspiration for what I can cook.  I also have to take into consideration Easter Sunday which is looming on the horizon, when N’s parents return for lunch with granny.  So I don’t want to cook something fantastic this weekend, and then think “balls, I should have done that for Easter,” and technically I feel Easter lunch should be more impressive.  So many things to consider! 

My current thinking is along the lines of a chicken pie (which hopefully might help me to look the part of the serene hostess) possibly with lots of end of winter/beginning of spring greens like a variety of cabbage, spring greens, leeks etc, maybe a bit of lemon in there?  For starters I’ve thought about a smoked trout, horseradish and beetroot salad….or perhaps Stilton pate with beetroot, salad and crusty bread…  And then dessert…well I’m not really a dessert person unless it involves pure, unadulterated chocolate, which isn’t to everyone’s taste and not very ‘spring-like’.  I’ve seen a nice recipe for Honey Cake, which sounds nice, and a cake can be baked in advance!  So it scores top marks in the stakes to recreated me as the serene hostess.  At this point – suggestions more than welcome!!

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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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