Category Archives: Food

Resolutions 2012

Today, i’m a little ick. It’s the first day in two years I’ve had to cancel work because I don’t want to spread my lurgy. I’m so very sick that I have a bag full of Moore-ish tiffin to eat, just about the nicest thing there is in the whole world, qnd I couldn’t eat even a piece. That’s the problem with not being ill often… when I am, I’m a total wuss.

Anyway, yesterday, I was thinking about my resolutions at the beginning of the year and working out my tally out of 93. I know 93 is a bit of a random number, but there you go.

From 11-20 are here:

11. Finally have some success with carrots. Did that! I had 10 kg of the beasts. They were small and I should have thinned them out, but I had some at least!

Carrots - Lady Justine's blog

12. Paint the front wall and build a small herb garden. No. Didn’t get there. Another one to carry forward.

13. Make tin-can planters and tea-light holders to hang from the trees. Yes to the tin-can planters; no to the tea-light holders.

Decoupage on plant pots - Lady Justine's blog
Decoupage on plant pots

14. Finish painting the gate! Another miss. Again. This has to be my first spring task!!!

15. Render the outside wall of the lean-to. Nope.

16. Add some lean-to art. Nope also

17. Finish painting the lean-to window frames – I need new windows, so I’m foregoing that. Steve painted the shutters though…

Pink shutters - Lady Justine's blog

18. Make curtains for the lean-to. Ha ha ha

19. Find some cheap chairs to renovate for lean-to sitting. Likewise.

20. Paint the rest of the laundry lean-to. Finally, a lean-to related task completed

So I’m at 9 out of 20. That’s not bad. It’s almost 50% This year, I think I need to make like Boxer and work just that little bit harder. If I knit a pair of socks by the end of the year, that would be 10 out of 20 so far and I can live with that!

I’m off back to my sickbed. Is this what happens to your immune system when you are 40? If it is, I don’t like it. It’s a night of Glee for me in bed with my knitting. Between electric blankets, hot water bottles and these super-cool fleecy pyjamas from my sister, I think I’ll survive. If I’m not up to eating chocolate tiffin by tomorrow, I’m booking a plot in the cemetery.


Do you like these pjs? I’m in total love with them. If I just taught by internet, I could wear them all day.

Anyway, I better be better tomorrow. I have things to do. I hate being ill. In the words of Ms. Sweet Brown, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”

I’m hoping to make some sweet Christmas rolls with Moore-ish mincemeat. I’m very Mooreish at the moment. January, the lady behind Moore-ish things, is the ideal woman to make anyone feel better. She knows comfort food like nobody does!

If you are too far away and you fancy a little chocolate tiffin yourself, here’s the BBC Good Food recipe. January’s has meringue in it – and between that and the glacé cherries, they’re my favourite bits. All wrapped up in chocolate. Yum.


Making hay…

Having a vegetable plot teaches you a lot about the world. I feel the weather much more than I ever did back in the UK. To be fair, that lovely Gulf Stream keeps us warm and wet. The winters seem to have been worse the last two years I was in England, including weather like this:

In fact, it was so bad the two winters before I came here that I lost almost a month’s worth of work. I wasn’t skype-friendly then. Last year, when we had a cold snap in France and I couldn’t get out, I taught by skype.

But this year has been a disaster in so many ways. First, that cold, cold snap.

I had icicles as long as trees, and no matter how much wood we burned in the day, getting up to 23 or 24 degrees inside, it was always 11 or 12 degrees by morning. I slept in the front room. My bedroom was 5 degrees.

Then the blossoms came. They were a little late, and the cold put paid to some of the early blooms.

That was okay. We had the promise of fruit. There was plenty of blossom. A long, hard cold snap is no deterrent to nature.

But then it rained. And rained. And rained. And temperatures dipped. From high twenties, it was back down to low teens in the day. And it did that pretty much all of April.

The insects disappeared. The blossom went unpollinated. The cold tricked my onions into setting seed.

But as the matron of husbandry points out, a bad year for one thing is a bumper year for something else.

Last year was terrible for potatoes. This year, less so. Last year, fantastic for tomatoes. I harvested over 30 kg. This year, I’ve not even had a kilogram. Partly that was to do with planting, but in general, any of the ratatouille crops have been a bit thin. My courgettes got hit by early cold. Then I had to plant some more. They came up and got hit by late drought. It hasn’t now rained properly since July. And it’s been hot.

So what’s been naughty?

No tomatoes. No aubergines. No courgettes. No gherkins. No lettuce. No pak choi (which bolted from two leaves… I’m leaving it til after midsummer next year, following Susan’s advice) No sweetcorn to speak of. Small onions and lots of bolting. No plums, no cherries, no apples, some pears, small quinces, no walnuts. Few grapes. No leeks. No turnips. No swedes.

And what’s been nice?

Peas. Peas and broad beans. Borlotti beans. More peas. More broad beans. Carrots. Beetroot. Oh, glorious beetroot. Lots of hazelnuts, lots of blackberries, lots of redcurrants and blackcurrants. Lots of cabbage. And weeds galore.

I’m a big fan of diversity. I practice companion planting, which works very well. My onions, carrots, beetroots and radish sets all did remarkably well, and not just because of the rain. They like being with each other and keep pests away.

And, of course, my flower garden, in the courtyard, was fine. It’s well-sheltered and well within watering grasp.

As it is, the vegetable year is over, and it’s not just on this side of the Atlantic that it’s been a bit of a hit-and-miss year. This post from Matron of Husbandry tells how it’s been in the Pacific Northwest. Of course, that place is mahoosive compared to mine. And this old Iowa guy explains why he doesn’t have crop insurance. It sounds a lot like the crops round here – corn and sunflowers almost exclusively. However, there are more and more wheat fields and colza fields and barley fields in there. It’s shame most of this is animal feed. That tells you a lot. Meat-eating is not only labour-intensive but commands almost all of the fields round here not given to grape production for cognac or pineau. Most crops for people seem to be grown up north in poly-tunnels, or in Holland and Belgium. I did see a field full of onions though. That was a nice sight. Especially since they’d gone to seed. It made me feel like less of a crap gardener.

There’s something about a crop failure that always makes me blame myself.

But what is true in the garden is true of life. Sometimes, there are crap years. Sometimes there are productive years. It’s a combination of being enough ant and enough grasshopper to both profit from them by storing for the future as well as enjoying the here and now. If I hadn’t frozen and bottled most of those tomatoes from last year, or those courgettes, I’d have none. As it is, there will be enough to take me through to next year.

This year, peas and beetroot have been my ‘pay-it-forward’ crops. That’s not so good, but if it looks like being crappy next year too, I’ll be more prepared and more wise. Such is life. You learn from this year so you can make provisions in the future. Being in tune with the weather means I’m much more at ease with what it can bring.

As Maddie said of a soap opera when told it couldn’t get any worse, she said: “well, there could be a tornado…” and she’s right of course.

There could always be a tornado…

These vegetable days

This week, I have been mostly eating chickpeas.

I love Jesse’s Diets from The Fast Show. I also suspect I’m beginning to look a bit like him, what with the wellies and the coming out of a strange shed. His diets included bourbon biscuits, taramasalata and acorns. Oh, and prozac. 

In all seriousness, I used to be a very serious organic vegetarian. My brother-in-law calls this ‘lesbionic’ food, and yes, my cupboards were largely unappetising if you were on the scrounge for chocolate, sugar, crisps, biscuits and the likes. I ate rice cakes and brown rice and lentils and hummus and all the things that people like to laugh at. I made a pot of mixed-bean salad at the beginning of the week and ate it with brown rice or cous-cous for lunch every day. It was a finely-balanced diet and any nutritionist would have been proud, if not a little stunned. To my brother-in-law, it’s the kind of food that sandal-wearing, hippy social workers eat. Yotam Ottolenghi is the king of the lesbionic food.

But when I had to stop running, when my feet were busted for good, I fell to comfort foods. I did lots of low-impact activities anyway and lots of weights and so on, but eventually, life got the better of me. When I say life, I mean feeding boys and men who won’t eat chickpea and aubergine curry. Whilst I am proud I expanded Steve’s diet from mainly pies, chippy and huge sandwiches, taking him into the realm of risottos and cous-cous and occasional vegetarian meals, I started eating meat again, after a 20-year hiatus, mainly because it was convenient. Cooking three separate meals is something of  a chore when you’ve been working all day.

Anyway, my friend Rachel has inspired me to be more experimental and healthy again. She makes this amazing quinoa salad and I’ve been feeling more and more like I needed a break from the dairy/meat and sandwiches grind I’ve been in. Plus, when it’s just me, I eat a lot of sandwiches. Sandwiches constitute my main meals. Toast for breakfast, sandwich for lunch, sandwich for tea.

I’ve no allergies to anything, it must be said, but eating ‘lesbionic’ food does make you feel clean inside. It gives you back all the energy you used to have. I’m a big believer in what you put in and how it affects your mood and energy levels, but then I’m also a comfort eater who eats her feelings. So this week, I ‘ave mostly bin eatin lesbionic food.

I cut out most bread and yeast last week. I had a couple of rounds of French bread and a burger bun. This week, it’s been mostly dairy-free as well. I’m not being mad about it. It’s not a cult. It’s not ‘all or nothing’. But yesterday, I made a Keralan coconut curry with chickpeas, tofu, almonds and green peppers. And very delicious it was too. It’s nice to be able to be experimental with flavours again.

The recipe was as follows:

2 red onions, chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tsp of fresh chili paste (from the Portuguese section in the supermarket if you’re in France) or 1 chopped chili.

1 tsp of garam masala

1 tsp powdered ginger

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp turmeric

200 g chickpeas

1 chopped green pepper

100 g tofu, chopped (from the ‘bio/nature’ section in the supermarket)

20 g chopped almonds

3 tbsp sunflower oil

200 ml coconut milk

Fry the chopped onions in 2 tbsp sunflower oil for about 5 minutes, or until they are soft. Add the garlic and the chili and fry off for two minutes. Add the spices and continue frying for 2 minutes. Add more oil, then the tofu and green peppers. Sauté until both are browned. Add 100 ml of coconut milk and stir in, before adding the chickpeas. Add the remaining coconut milk and cook for 20 minutes. Add water if the sauce becomes too dry or sticky. If the sauce fails to thicken, you may want to add some cornflour paste.

Serve with brown rice and sprinkle the almonds on top.

It’s a very mild curry indeed – very gentle. Nobody’s going to have watering eyes from it.

Having said that, Mme V gave me real English bacon butties last night and boy was I glad to break my bread and meat fast 🙂

A little of what you fancy doesn’t do you any harm, now does it? I think that’s what got my waistline in trouble in the first place!

Quite Contrary…

If you know me, you may wonder why I’m not called Mary, since I am indeed very contrary. Ornery. Stubborn. Awkward. Perverse and definitely willful.

If I were a horse, I’d be the one that always cantered off wherever it felt like it.


Anyway, this post isn’t about me being contrary, but about my lovely little garden. I spent two hours yesterday digging up more vegetables, pickling, bottling, cleaning, wondering why I’m bothering, thinking ‘I could buy this in the supermarket for 1€’ and then, finally, then, feeling damn bloody satisfied with myself, nay, even a bit smug.

A bowl of red onions for marmalade, more beetroot (and yet still not enough for my beetrooty needs!) and more carrots. By 9:30 pm, I’d pickled another kg of beetroot as beetroot and ginger chutney.

Here’s the recipe, by the way. It’s a Women’s Institute one.

700 g beetroot, cooked and cubed or mashed (depending on whether you like your chutney chunky or not)

225 g chopped onions

225 g chopped cooking apples

225 g raisins

600 ml cider vinegar

2 tsp powdered ginger

450 g sugar

Cook the onions for 5 min in 50 ml of vinegar. Then add the apples and the raisins (you can also use dates). Cook down til soft (about 25 mins). Add the chopped beetroot, the rest of the vinegar, the ginger and the sugar. Stir in and cook over a low heat until it’s at a caramelised consistency (between 45 mins – 1 hr) and then put into jars. This makes about 3 jars of 500 ml content.

It’s such an amazing colour and taste. My dad says it’s like Branston Pickle, but it’s not. It’s much more beetrooty and subtle. I just love the dark ruby-red glow. Nigella has a recipe for ‘slut red’ something-or-other, and this is about 50 shades more red than that. If her recipe is slut red, well, the colour of this must be whorehouse burgundy. I’ve already given away two jars, and I’ve made six, so I want to make another batch at the very least. It’s THAT yum. Couple it with some cheese and biscuits and it’s just heaven.

Anyway… that’s about the vegetable plot – the potager  – not the garden.

Now it might only be a key-hole shaped plot of roughly three big bags of soil, perhaps 1.5 m long by a metre wide, but this is the highlight of my gardening life:

Apart from 30€ for the soil and the manure and the posts and net, it’s cost me:

15€ for the sedum, the rudbeckia, the achillea, the coreopsis, the dicentra, the aquilegia and the monarda

1.60€ for the packet of marguerite seeds

29 cents each for the limonium, portulaca and asters

two packets were a gift from my mum – the ostrich asters and the calendula

3.99€ for the dahlias


£5.99 for the campanula seeds, the second achillea, delphinium seeds and the scabiosa. That’s 23€ for a garden that, should I maintain it properly, will either come back next year or give me seeds for next year.

And they’re all beautiful flowers. I’m particularly loving all the pinks, whites and purples. The limonium are wonderful, and for 29 c from Lidl, have to be some of my favourites. Likewise the portulaca. The limonium coupled with the scabiosa – well, that’s my favourite bit. It’s obviously a favourite of the wildlife as well.

Now, I’m not usually a frilly, pink, fluffy kind of a girl. Give me whorehouse burgundy every time. But that’s where I’m contrary. Because I love the fluffy pink and the frilly white together. And I’m going to be doing other patches with these next year, I think. It’s such a good look!

I’m also loving the purple and orange combo of the limonium and the calendula. The calendula are ‘Pink Surprise’ though I’d be very surprised if they were pink. They don’t look pink to me. Or to anyone with eyes. Spot the Jersey Tiger Moth, though. At least, that’s what I think it is. I’m sure I’ll be corrected if I’m wrong!

The ostrich asters are also beautiful, some of them very pink and frilly as well. Perhaps it goes with the ‘knickers on a line’ signs? It’s kind of a boudoir garden. In fact, I’m sensing a theme for my next border. I think I shall call it ‘pink and frilly’ and put some real boudoir knickers out there.

I admit… I’m entranced by the colours and the ‘Wow!’ of it all. I’m a fan of all those crazy plants in together, as it gives you something to look at. And yes, the annuals are the show-stealers. I’m going to look for some perennial scabiosa and then at least I can have half a site that won’t need quite so much looking after.

I think it’s also Heston’s favourite part of the garden because he loves to chase butterflies and moths. Watching him chasing butterflies is just about the cutest thing ever. Love my doggies.








Goodbye, Summer… it was nice whilst you lasted!

I know you won’t think so, but the year is over. I’m in hibernate mode. The freezer is full and the ground is mostly empty bar a few winter crops that will stay in the ground right up until the winter.

It feels like it’s been awfully rushed. You have a year to live in eight months. Sow, pick out, plant on, nurture, water, fruit, harvest, dig up, dig over. And it’s all done.

Peas first leaves
Last week of January and we have pea shoots

In January, I was madly planting out and hoping the frosts didn’t last too long. The poly tunnel was empty except a few peas and beans. More of them next year! And although the peas did okay in the polytunnel, both of them did better outside. Poly tunnel is just for seed trays next year! Plus, it will give it a year to get itself weed free. The convolvulus weeds in there are so thick it’s almost undiggable. Steve’s going to sterilise it once everything is out of there.

Mona Lisa potatoes being chitted
Chitting potatoes ready for planting - January

I’ve dug and dug and dug. Now I’ve got 5 plots plus the tunnel. When we arrived, we had only the one. I think that’s a lot more growing room! I still don’t think it will be enough though. I’d like more peas and more cabbages, more variety and more range. I’m not sure where I’ll put the next plot though! I’ve got a fenced-off vegetable garden where the chickens can’t get in so it’s fairly limited in terms of how much space there is.

Broad bean beginnings
February and the broad beans are emerging like aliens from John Hurt's belly

March was fairly warm and April got hot. By April, stuff was outside and things were beginning to come in as a harvest. Really, April is where it all started. April to September – the whole year happens in that time. All you’re doing either side of that time is clearing up or preparing.

So what have we had?

French breakfast radishes
French radishes at the end of April
Turnips in April
Cherries and Elderflowers
Cherries and Elderflowers at the beginning of May
Cornichon flower
courgettes, beans and gherkins
Courgettes, gherkins and beans in June


charentais melon
Charentais melon
Peppers in August
Pears in August
Pears in August
Roma Tomatoes
Tomatoes in August

Money, money, money…

Yet again, the headlines, either alarmingly so or melodramatically so, are all pointing to global catastrophe. Today, The Telegraph reported that Britain is a nation of debtors, introduced by my favourite Mr Micawber line about misery and happiness dependent on income.

It seems, according to the article, that the country has been spending more than its income since 1982. Almost thirty years of over-expenditure. This does not bode well. What doesn’t bode well is the fact that everything that marks inflation – food prices and petrol prices – are increasing, and are going to continue to do so. Whether you think it’s media spin or you’re in agreement with Oxfam’s declaration that we are heading into triple prices and famine, one thing cannot be denied: the population of the globe is rocketing and we are going to be unable to sustain life as it is.

Oxfam point to several causes, all of which are more than evident in the world around us. The first is climate change. Whether it is or isn’t, whether we caused it or it’s just Mother Nature, some things are indisputable: sometimes, we have ‘bad’ years. This is what gave Joseph his power, way back when the technicolour dreamcoat was a myth: seven years of feasting followed by seven years of famine that brought Egypt to its knees and made a slave into a national hero. And did we learn from this?

Obviously not.

Causes of climate change aside, there are bad years and good ones, and in the bad – like this year here – where it’s been bone-dry since April and now cool and overcast in June – and the President himself is meeting up with local farmers to talk about the drought, you know it’s going to have a knock-on effect on food prices. Chicken food has gone up from 1.95 for a 5l bag to 2.95.

Not only does the climate have a massive impact on inflation, but petrol does too – in two ways. Firstly, we’ve come to be so hooked on cars and petrol that we now can’t live without it. I’m reminded of what Morpheus said to Neo about unplugging people from the matrix. “Most people are so hopelessly dependent on the system that they will fight to protect it.” And is that not what most of our OPEC wars are about? Hmmm.

But because we can’t live without petrol (and we’ve really only had access to cars, wholesale, for about 70 years, how bad is that??! We’ve become petrol junkies, as a species, faster than it takes to get hooked on heroin, in terms of the length of humanity) we can’t envisage any other way of living, so we invent biofuels. When I was in Brazil, 40% of cars ran off biofuels. I thought that was cool. It isn’t. Biofuels mean you are growing them instead of crops, and that means some people in the world starve whilst others drive. We – as a species – can’t seem to think of any other way of getting about other than in cars or on planes. Amazing to think that two hundred years ago, we lived in ways without cars, planes, bicycles… I’d like to hope we could be in a world like that again, simply because it’s much less environmentally violent.

I for one would start breeding Clydesdales, Friesians or Shire horses, donkeys and oxen, get myself a cart and move about that way. And I’d like it very much!

But, whilst oil will continue to rocket, price-wise, and we’ll see petrol prices spiral – I remember in 1995 buying petrol for 64p a litre and thinking it was expensive! – few of us make any real attempt to stop using our cars quite so much. I definitely use my bike more, but it’s not for any noble purpose, just because petrol’s too expensive for me to buy any more. France isn’t set up for public transport outside the big cities. Whilst a train ticket is 14.50 to Limoges, beating the cost of petrol there and back to drop us off at the airport, there’s no longer any public transport to the airport. What’s the point of that??! There used to be a shuttle bus, but there isn’t any more. Not only that, if I wanted to get to Calais and travel across as a foot passenger on a boat, I’d have to go by TGV, bumping up the cost. To be honest, the train journeys are pleasant and I wouldn’t mind one that’s four or five times slower but it’s impossible to get there without being strong-armed into expensive rail travel… which, by the way, embarrasses England’s trains with their standard ‘on the day’ cost of a ticket between London and Manchester of £215.00. Or £315.00 return, first class. How is that justifiable??! So… until Governments get their heads around better public transport – which, let’s face it, isn’t going to happen when car production and tax on petrol are shoring up the economy – it’s just not viable. It only will become viable when we, as a species, get really, really stuck and there’s no oil left and there’s global disgust for biofuel.

So… if you’re not committed to Oxfam’s GROW you should be… because we ARE our brothers’ keepers. And the quote ‘If not me, who? If not now, when?’ has never been more appropriate.

Salted Caramel Ice Cream

Back in September, we went on a trip to Brantome and I ate some fabulous beurre salée ice cream from a glacerie. It was amazing, and as soon as I got back, I was looking for a recipe. I found one on The Guardian website.

I had to adapt the recipe as I went along – some simple reasons for this. One is I don’t like melting sugar without any liquid in it or without butter. It tends to stick and burn, so I added the butter.

The other adaptation I made was when I saw you needed to add cold milk and cream to hot caramel – it’s very likely to harden it. So I heated the milk and cream in one pan and then added it, warm, to the caramel. I know it’s two pans, but it avoids solidifying the caramel. 2 tsps of salt is too much for me, especially with salted butter, and the original sauce was too rich for me, so I added 500 ml of crème fraiche. Made double the amount, but it mellowed the flavour a little so it didn’t just taste like Werther’s Originals.

So… a slightly amended recipe:

300g caster sugar

60 g demi-sel butter

500 ml whole milk

250 ml thick cream

1 tsp salt – fleur du sel if possible

5 egg yolks

500 ml crème fraiche

1. Melt the sugar over a low heat with the butter, stirring constantly, checking to ensure the sugar and butter don’t burn.

2. Meanwhile, heat the cream and milk. When all the sugar is melted and the cream/milk are gently simmering, add them to the pan with the sugar in it. Add 1 tsp of salt.

3. Beat the egg yolks and when the milk/sugar mixture is just about to boil, add the eggs. Keep them on a low heat unless you want omelette. Stir for a few minutes until they thicken.

4. Leave to cool

5. Stir in 500 ml of crème fraiche

6. Put in an ice-cream maker for 30 minutes and then freeze for another couple of hours until it is set properly. Defrost for 15 minutes before eating to soften

EDIT: this was far too salty, even with the extra cream. I ended up throwing it away. It also tasted like Werther’s Originals mixed with Butterscotch Angel Delight. Not so bad for me, but neither of the boys would even try it. I’m going with the Marmiton recipe (in French) next time, if I bother at all. Much better ratio of caramel and custard. They put no extra salt in it, and a third less sugar. I guess this will taste better. Will let you know!!!

All things leek

As well as my broken toilet….

I’ve been able to do my first seed sowing of the year – leeks. I’ve planted 50 Autumn Giant leeks, which should be ready between 30 – 45 weeks – almost next November!! I’m going to start these off for a couple of weeks and then follow with 50 Musselbough leeks. I figure if half come to fruition, that’s a leek a week! I like the symmetry! I’m also going to start off some tomatoes, petunias and begonias.

It’s fab to be able to start planting. Lunar gardening site says all systems go; weather is mild if wet and I’m hoping I can keep this up all year!

It was so mild today, we walked the dogs in our jumpers. Rained a lot though – most of the morning.

EDIT: the dogs weren’t in our jumpers, we were. Terrible confusion!

Quince jelly – la confiture de coing

We have a fabulous quince tree in our secret garden, which had 20 or so huge, globe-like, weighty fruits hanging pendulous and heavy from it, making the branches sink under them. Some of them gave way to rot (my fault… I have to get better at picking things quickly!!) but we had 7 heavily-scented fruits left after I’d given four of the biggest to my dad’s neighbours. This morning, I decided it was time to turn them into jelly.

Again, I found my way to the cottage smallholder and the recipe for quince jelly here. I washed them first to get rid of the fluff, and then cut them into pieces. They are very hard and it’s a good job I had the internet to peruse or else I’d have left these a lot longer than I did in order to ripen up!! They were a soft pear-like yellow. I covered them with water and they are currently boiling. Apparently, they can take 3 hours or more. Larousse says only 30-40 minutes, but that doesn’t seem enough to me. They’ve turned a deep peach already.

1 hour later, they softened and the water is a deep red (not sure how!) – they are soft enough to mash. I’ve mashed them and put them through a fine mesh sieve (I don’t hold with muslin!) and now it will be left for 12 hours to drain through.