Tag Archives: food

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!!!

The Simpsons Ladies

We are now proud (if nervous) owners of four Warren hens, which apparently were bred for battery farming as they are ‘egg laying machines’ – Marge, Lisa, Patty and Selma. I asked Jake what we should call them, and even though, as you know, I was pressing for Maria Callas, Lady Di, Jackie O and Margot Fonteyn, Jake had already thought of some names. Bart was the first one. I explained, dutifully, that only girls lay eggs. Not quite time to go into my ‘all roosters are rapists’ speech, I feel.

Jake and Steve had cleaned out the hen house in preparation – whilst it might be a little aged, it’s very functional. It has lovely nesting boxes and a couple of ladders to help them get to their perches. Then we’d bought some bedding – flax seemed to be our choice, since it’s more absorbent than straw and I couldn’t find any ‘copeaux de bois’ (wood shavings) at such short notice, which apparently are the best bedding. We’d chosen food for layers and sorted out the fly situation with the hens’ own ‘catch’. Then it was off to Rouillac market. Yes, the market of golden cheese.

I walked past the cheese lady today with an air of severity and seriousness. I’m not the tourist who would be buying cheese for 20 euros (although I had to hide a dried saucisse in the fridge at L’Eclerc today. I need not to sample wares!) and headed for the chickens. I was beginning to wonder where the chickens were. We’d gone past stalls of knives (which, each time, I have to peel Jake and Steve away from…) and stalls of cheese, vegetables, garlic (there must be four garlic stalls, at the very least) and old french-lady-nighties (think winceyette and neck-high) as well as pinafores and slacks. Contrary to popular belief, fashion is not really a French or Italian thing, since a good 80% of the female population expand without reason after 30 (my uncle Paul calls them popcorn women – they are small and skinny until the heat warms them up and then they pop!) and the French ladies have a penchant for pop socks, slippers, winceyette nighties, overall aprons and nylon.

Anyway, past the final stalls of vegetables, there was a general squawking and squealing. There were a few rows of pretty caged birds (how sad!) to get you excited and make you think a little that there are no chickens to be bought, and then there are about 10 stalls of birds. They include all manner of sad-looking poultry – geese, ducks, goslings, ducklings and chickens. There are plenty of chickens for ‘chair’ (flesh) – and a lot of hen-pecked creatures missing feathers and looking a bit worse for wear.

We went to a quieter stall where the chickens looked a lot less sad, although very cramped, and I liberated our four ladies, if only for a short while, since they were then put into very small boxes which we carried back to the car.

Once back, we unpacked our presents. I should add at this point that I’d woken up at 5:30 and Jake at 6:30, which is as rare as hen’s teeth. Jake is lucky if he sees the morning-side of noon. Two of the girls went into the chicken house; the other two wandered about a bit. Molly had come in with us, and we’d managed to contain her a little – although she was excited enough to piddle, I could just tell – although when one flapped near her, she went bananas. After that, we left them to settle in.

Patty and Selma hiding under a bush
Lisa hiding in the hen house

Le crapaud dans le trou

One of the best things about being here and having a glut of fruit is the ability to cook properly – not in a kitchen where there are brake pads on the fridge!

My mum sent me a fantastic recipe for roasted plum sorbet which I loved but wasn’t to Monsieur Hynes’ taste. To be fair, we’ve got far too many plums. I know it’s been a plum-tastic year, but there are still four trees heavy with fruit. That’s an awful lot of plum jelly, plum jam, plum cobbler and so on, so I was grateful for the other recipes. Last night, Jake was in charge of tea. He made le crapaud dans le trou, otherwise known as toad-in-the-hole. He’s exceptionally good in the kitchen is Jake. He mixed the batter and we put it in the freezer for 10 minutes to rest it and cool it. I’m with the Japanese on battered things. Tempura batter is always used on the point of freezing. The colder it is going into the hot batter, the crisper it seems to be!

It will be nice, though, to go and get our eggs from the chicken house for the first time. Hopefully, we’ll have some by the end of the week! Steve’s cousin put up some photos of her trip to Wales and her husband and son had found a couple of eggs from their ‘neighbours’ – and I’m convinced Jake will be just as excited as Damon was to find his first egg!

Thar’s all moither’d

Still on the countdown… buying packs of vegetable seeds like mad and contemplating how many different strains of carrots to grow, in amongst countless viewings and worryings and so on. I’ve been compiling a list of things to be sure we can buy in France, food-wise, that make up part of our weekly diet… judge not!

  • cornflour…. custard, thickening, gravy
  • suet… dumplings, suet puddings and suet crust
  • olive oil – simply because last time we were in Geant, it didn’t seem to have any! Can’t believe it would be a rare commodity, but there you go
  • corned beef – you can’t beat a tin of corned beef in the cupboard as a classic favourite to make a mighty meal with – much like last night, when I’d mislaid my shopping (it happens!) and we had corned beef hash with a suet crust!
  • curry spices
  • mushroom sauce
  • worcestershire sauce
  • toasted sesame oil
  • ginger
  • baked beans

I’m sure there’ll be more, but this is about it. As long as I’ve got something as a substitute, I’ll be okay. I know we go through pints of double cream, so it’ll be creme fraiche from now on, and I know we’ll have to make the switch to French cheeses, which is fine, although you can’t beat the versatility of cheddar or double gloucester, or the lovely acidity of lancashire or cheshire or caerphilly. I’m sure I can manage with good old Port Salut for melting on stuff, and I’m looking forwards to a proper tartiflette with a reblochon cheese, rather than mozzarella and cheddar. I’m not sure I mind going completely native, but it is good to have a suet crust from time to time, or a bit of custard. I am, however, looking forwards to the rewards of fresh eggs on tap – home made mayo, ice-cream, meringues, pavlova, forgotten pudding, yummy baked cheesecakes, boiled eggs for breakfast and proper egg pasta, and eggy bread, and bread and butter pudding…. I was reckoning I spent about £250.00 a year on good organic free range eggs – I might have given up my vegetarian ways, but I can’t quite bring myself to buy something made in a cage by a poor life-less animal, unless I can absolutely help it. I don’t even buy things with eggs in these days, for much the same reason. I’m planning on turning Steve meat-free, over the long run. I reckon with our own eggs, plenty of fresh fish and lots of vegetables and cheese and bread, that’ll happen fairly easily.

What I love is how often he tells the Molly-dog ‘you’ll love it in France’, which is sweet, if un-needed. I know animals understand a lot of what we say, but I’m not sure she yet understands she’s moving from England to France. I think what he’s really doing is getting himself excited. I hope so. He’s not a gig-dancer like I am, so it can be very hard to the untrained eye to see if he’s actually giddy.

There’s a lot I shan’t miss… the media frenzy and deliberate misinterpretation of facts, the ‘sleb’ focus we have in this country. I don’t care what Jordan/Katie Price/Kerry Katona et al are up to, but someone must. They keep buying magazines with their faces on them, tuning in to programmes about them. I shan’t miss that at all. I also shan’t miss the way the press make demons of people, or angels, when we’re all somewhere in between. It’s shallow and fickle and cruel. Headlines won’t affect us so much, I hope. I’m sick of the way the world has become managed globally, although I appreciate that someone somewhere has the foresight to see a big picture on our behalf, and I’m hoping I won’t feel as enmeshed in politics as I do here, and that the media frenzy which turned a slump into a credit-crunch and a recession, in my opinion, is in some way responsible for the panic that ensued.

Neither shall I miss the foul-mouthed, nasty, small-minded underclass we’ve got in this country, the kind that litter the Jeremy Kyle show. I wish, I really, truly wish, that Jeremy Kyle had no guests and they were actors, but you can tell that they aren’t. They’re symptomatic of the foul society that Britain rests on, its weakest link, the Karen Matthews’ of the world, who pop out children and fill up the welfare system and drain resources, and there’s times when I wish the government, the police and social workers would say ‘you’re a foul individual! Stop being such a fuck-up and sort yourselves out. You’ve got no-one to blame for this but yourself. Now step up to the mark and start contributing to society instead of sucking it dry’ Petty-minded, over-fertile, badly-nourished alcoholics and drug addicts and dependants who haven’t got the slightest concern about any other living being, and feel like the world owes them a living. The worst thing is, there seem to be more and more of these as time passes. I don’t know whether it’s the distorted view I get from the press or the fact that I run into these oxygen thieves on a daily basis, but I’m sick and tired of the fact that nothing is ever done about them, although we all seem to despise them, and no-one would own up to being one. Where have all the nice people gone??!

And now you get a small sense of what it is that’s driving me to abandon this country and have a go somewhere else. I’m tired of everyone running each other down with words, terrorising each other, abusing each other and thinking it’s harmless. It’s okay to scream at your children instead of loving them, blaming a seven year old for being ‘bad’ instead of thinking it’s anything to do with yourself. I hate the way there’s no-one left to intervene and neither the police nor social workers are even allowed to say ‘this isn’t okay’, and it’s left to Jeremy Kyle to say ‘it’s not okay for you to behave like this’. Heaven forbid anyone should cast blame on a parent for not bringing a child up effectively. I hate that. Maybe if we did say ‘it IS your fault your three-year-old is naughty’ instead of accepting excuses, then things might be a little better. Too few people take responsibility for their own weaknesses, yet find much to criticise in others. I hate that.

So… I’m hoping the nun-like solitude and the occasional copy of Charente Libre will keep me up to date, and revive my faith that the world is a lovely place after all.