Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Christmas Desk...

And yes, of course there's a picture from Brittany on one of my three desktops.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Making marmalade...

A re-post from my old blog, now moth-balled. Written in early spring of 2012. 

Marmalade fruit preserve made from the juice and peel of citrus fruits and water. The benchmark citrus fruit for marmalade production in Britain is the Seville orange thus called because it was originally only grown in Spain; it is higher in pectin than most oranges and therefore gives a good set. The peel has a distinctive bitter taste which it imparts to the marmalade. Marmalade can be made from lemons, limes, grapefruits, mandarins and sweet oranges or any combination thereof.Wikipedia

During my working week, and often at the weekends, I spend a great deal of time engaged in mental activity of the most intense complexity. I kid you not, much of the time even I do not understand what I am thinking and I often sit back and wonder what kind of weird and wonderful world this is in which I now find myself.
So much mental activity is not good for a person. Indeed I firmly believe that we homo sapiens are insufficiently evolved to cope with the technology that we have developed and are frantically running to catch up with ourselves.

Certainly the internet is changing us physiologically, recent studies suggest that our brains are changing, our 'soft-wiring' is altering as we spend more and more time in the 'wired-world.' Purely personally I find my attention span shrinking as my desire for instant-information gratification is expanding.

So it was time to spend some time in physical, real-world activities that do not require much brain power and yesterday I came across a post devoted to marmalade over at the blog 'my french country home' which I read daily (despite the ads) and decided that marmalade would be just the thing for a Saturday away from the office...

Marmalade is ridiculously easy to make. Actually much of that which we are offered on the shelves of the supermarkets ready-made, is easy to make, tastes much, much better and is free of nasty chemicals and I, for one, am slowly becoming a devotee of home-made.

For marmalade organic fruit is not just a luxury but a necessity. I will refrain from writing about the pesticides and waxes to which citrus fruit are 'treated' as they grow from flower to fruit but since marmalade is made from the peel and pith and pips as well as the fruit itself, all that you want in your pan is pure fruit and sunshine.

I like my marmalade with thin slivers of peel, they give it a pleasantly crunchy texture that goes perfectly with well-toasted, lavishly-buttered, brown bread, so I sliced but you could chop or dice if that is your choice.

However you prepare the fruit, the scents of citrus that are released as your knife slices through the peel are wonderful, especially on an early-spring morning when summer seems elusive and far away and the risk of rain is ever present.

Once sliced the fruit is popped into a pan, covered with water and left to soak. Overnight is best but mine only had a few hours because I wanted to make the marmalade in time for Sunday breakfast.

Time for a walk with the dog...

The only disadvantage to living in The Doll's House is the lack of a decent garden. The plot at the back of the house is too small and mean to be called a garden and I tend to ignore it, save for hanging my washing there. Well, few things in life are perfect, I make up for this by enjoying other people's gardens, albeit by way of secret glimpses through fences and hedges and the odd surreptitious and rather guilty photograph taken when no-one is looking.

Happily, the green is right on my doorstep and is a perfectly lovely garden for the dog and me. And it has the added bonus of a regular supply of nice people and their dogs so we pause, and exchange greetings and sometimes I walk alongside them while my dog plays with their dogs. I am quite fond of my 'other dogs' some of whom kiss my nose if I bend down low enough, it reminds me that if I were in France it is the men who would be kissing me and not the dogs but I don't mind, a kiss is a kiss...

Back to the kitchen...

The pips from the fruit must be tied in little muslin bags and added to the pan because the pectin in them helps the marmalade to set. I have no muslin, I am not so organised, a strip from an old, clean net curtain suffices. And then the fruit and water is boiled for a couple of hours and the citrus scents now seep into all of the rooms of the small house and are as lovely as an expensive pot-pourri but better somehow. And while that is all going on in the kitchen time can be spent on other things, in my case, my French studies and an intense session with past tenses that lasted for four hours and left me reeling.

After the initial boiling sugar is added. The same weight of sugar as fruit which realisation made me pause and wonder how I would know because the fruit was now in the water and had been boiled, until common sense returned to nudge me and politely suggest that I weigh another orange, lemon and grapefruit from the bowl on the cupboard. D'oh...

And then another hour of bubbling in the pan and frequent admiring glances as the whole lot becomes soft and syrupy and much dipping in of the tip of a wooden spoon because the taste is absolutely divine.

And then the bottling...

Did I say that marmalade is easy to make?
Alas, something fundamental went wrong with my marmalade. I suspect insufficient pips. I had thought as I sliced the fruit that it was distinctly lacking in the pip-department, and was a little worried but hoped that using sugar with added pectin would be enough.

It wasn't. My marmalade is runny.

I am not despondent. I shall pour some onto my Sunday-morning toast regardless because the taste is so very lovely and the rest, the other two jars, I will use to add to sponge-puddings and tarts and cakes, a kind of sharp syrupy kiss.

And one day in the week, when my head is too stuffed-full of complex computer code and the latest bank Trojan trickery, I shall return home to spend a sane and peaceful evening making Marmalade Mark II.

A little gift of sunshine and citrus from this Oxfordshire village...

Thursday, 21 November 2013

November means...


Last year I produced the best part of my first novel during November.
Flies in the Ointment is now actively seeking an agent which process is, I am learning, rather like speed-dating. No, I have never tried speed-dating and never will but I'm pretty sure that's how it feels to try to find an agent who will love my novel.

This November I am working on a second novel.
It's not the sequel to 'Flies', that's already in my head, this is a rather dark, quite erotic, often crazy story set, as are all my books, in Brittany, France. I'm not accustomed to writing such explicit stuff and I'm just grateful that neither of my parents will ever read it. I did ask myself, 'Can I really write explicit sex scenes? What will people think of me?' And then I remembered that the novel also contains sadism and a death, so I can safely say it's all fictional, and spare my blushes.

So this is why I am not blogging much...
Two novels and my final O.U course, and in between I have to fit in the Day Job

Be back in December

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


Or food for free

I am an incorrigible forager.
There's nothing that pleases me quite as much as finding something on my daily walks with the dog and bringing it home as chuffed as a prehistoric hunter returning to the cave with a haunch of deer over his shoulder. Honestly, I am like a child. I collect feathers, firewood and fruit, if I lived near the sea...

And isn't it so lovely to be taking steps, however small, to do that which our ancestors have done since those first hunter/gatherers? To take nature's bounty and store it for the winter.

This year there were the cherries.

The fat, fleshy cherries on the tree that someone planted in memory of a loved one.
And the tiny so-sweet wild cherries that I popped into my mouth, crush with my tongue and savoured.
All of which were harvested and turned into jam and pies and, best of all cherry vodka, brandy and liquer.

And there are walnuts.
Many, many walnuts.
Lying in the wet grass like jewels.
Which makes my daily walks with the dog a pleasurable treasure hunt.

And there are apples.
Which means that my kitchen now smells like my grandmother's spare bedroom in which apples were stored under the bed all winter long, and that makes me feel comforted. 
And there is apple cause in jars and in the freezer.
And The Ragazza and I have eaten our body weights in apple crumble and pies.
And last weekend I found a bush heavy with shiny, red rosehips, hanging like jewels.
Which was a very opportune discovery because I have spent the last three days in bed battling some horrid bugs and am acutely aware that it's just the start of a long winter of such onslaughts.
So this evening I'll be out there happily filling the pockets of my jacket with rosehips until the dog becomes bored. And then I'll be making rosehip syrup. It's ridiculously easy and so satisfying. And since rosehips contain five times more vitamin C than oranges and the syrup is smooth and tangy and packed with goodness it may, just may, help me to fight the winter's office bugs.   

  Here's my first jar of rosehip syrup, made last autumn.

How I make it...
200 gms of rosehips, washed, 'topped and tailed', blitzed in a food processor to chop them into small pieces and put in a pan with 300 mls of water.
Bring to the boil and leave to stand for 20 minutes
Sieve to remove the syrup which is poured into a jug
Then put the chopped rosehips back in the pan with another 300 mls of water and bring it to the boil, leave to stand, sieve etc
Repeat that step twice more
Then add 200 gms of sugar to the syrup and bring back to the boil
Pour into sterilized jar
Keep in a cool, dark place and once opened refrigerate and use within a few days

Can be used as a refreshing drink diluted to taste with mineral water.
A perfect early morning boost for this hunter/gatherer.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Let it Snow

It's autumn.
We've had a fabulous summer and now it's time to look forward to some snow!

snow -> noun [mass noun] 1 atmospheric water vapour frozen into ice crystals and falling in light white flakes or lying on the ground as a white layer.
- ORIGIN Old English snaw, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch sneeuw, and German Schnee, from an Indo-European root shared by Latin nix, niv- and Greek nipha (OED).

NEIGE n.f (de neiger). 1. Precipitation de cristaux de glace agglomérés en flocons, dont la plupart sont ramifiés, parfois en étoile.Quand la température des basses couches de l'atmosphère est inférieure à 0 ºC, la neige se forme par la présence, dans un nuage, de noyauxde condensation faisant cesser le phénomène du surfusion.
(le Petit Larousse 2007)

How full of the creative genius is the air in which these are generated!I should hardly admire more if real stars fell and lodged on my coat."--Henry David Thoreau

Picture courtesy of Snowflakes and crystals

You can buy stunning pictures of snow crystals here (I bought half a dozen in a bout of apres-ski trip nostalgia, and a book. I'd have ordered some snow too if it hadn't been too warm to post it)

Yes, we have been known to keep snow in the freezer...

It will soon be snowtime which is, in my small family, the best time.

In the absence of snow in the UK, we have strong winds and blue skies interspersed with downpours, all I can offer are photo's taken in Finnish Lapland, above the Arctic Circle, in 2006...

and my own tribute to snow...

The reindeer farm where we took part in a hilarious hijacking by reindeer. We were paired up and placed in a sled with a mad reindeer hitched at the front and then we were left to the mercy of our furry friend.

The reindeer took off at a canter, racing each other, trying to stay in front of the herd, jostling for position as we were tossed about in our sled, giggling hysterically.

After which we bought souvenirs, including a skin that has continued to shed all over my carpet, pictures and a slab of meat to cook back at our cabin.

Sorry Rudolf, it's a dog eat dog world out there!

We also took part in a husky safari

I can't express in mere words the wonder of a journey through a winter wonderland of snow-laden conifers, deep, thick blankets of snow on either side of the track, the silence pierced only by the panting of the team and our shrieks of laughter.

Pure pleasure...

One of the log cabins in the woods just outside Levi. I believe that the residents of this cabin may have witnessed an English woman of a certain age rolling naked in the snow outside a neighbouring cabin just after midnight on January 1st, 2006.

It's traditional, yes?

Especially after several tequila slammers and a hot sauna

The sun rises late during the winter months above the Arctic circle. By 10am it is just starting to spread a pinky, orange, golden glow across the morning sky.

And by 2pm it is sinking fast, colouring the sky with a glorious rainbow

I had thought that the lack of daylight, the merest glimpse of the sun for a few hours would induce a severe bout of SAD in me. Interestingly it didn't. My body adapted rapidly to the darkness and the thick, gleaming snow more than compensated for the lack of the sun's rays

Everything you ever wanted to know about snowflakes can be found at Snow Crystals

Everything, that is, except how to make it snow in Brittany. Now for that I would pay a handsome price!

and there's a museum dedicated to snowflakes, the Wilson Bentley Museum

I tried, and failed, to buy a pair of their snowflake earrings, a foreign credit card is not to be trusted it seems, tant pis, there will be other opportunities to indulge my passion...

The Perm International Snow and Ice Sculpture Festival has been held since 1995 to develop international friendship, mutual understanding, to establish artistic and aesthetic space through the art of snow and ice sculpture, and to position the city of Perm as part of the global art community and a place for international projects.

Wikipedia has an article that explains how to construct an igloo
(Inuit language : iglu, "house", plural: iglooit or igluit)

Incidentally, it has been said the Inuit have many words to describe snow. Probably true but so does English, and if one considers that there are several languages termed Eskimo-Aleut languages, then English begins to compete in the snow-word stakes. For example and according to Wikedpedia, Yupik, spoken by the peoples of western, southwestern, and southcentral ALaska and the Russian Far East, has been estimated to have around 24 — but English has at least 40 words that describe frozen water, including "berg", "frost", "glacier", "hail", "ice", "slush", "flurry", and "sleet".

Still, the idea of linguistic relativism states that our langage affects and reflects our view of the world. The belief that Eskimos had hundreds of words for snow led people to think that an Eskimo's eye-view of snow is vastly different from, say, that of a Mexican, or a man late for work and trying desperately to shovel the snow off his driveway.

Linguistics aside, for now, and speaking purely personally, I see snow as a beautiful, enchanting and fun phenomenon and I will continue to play with, roll in, ski over, throw around and eat handfuls of snow as long as it continues to fall from the sky...

A link to a translation of Hans Christian Andersen's Sneedronningen, The Snow Queen

A website that is All About Snow

And one for the kids amongst us who wish to spend the long winter months making paper snowflakes to hang from the beams of a Breton house

All I can say, in conclusion is


Thursday, 19 September 2013


Life has been so full here that at times it threatens to spill-over.

Summer was wonderful, as I overheard a woman telling her friend in Waitrose, "What a lovely summer we've had, just like the summers of my childhood!"  and I had to smile and silently agree with her.

There was a visit to France that will feature in future posts...
There was time spent working on my book...
There were birthdays for The Rags and I...
There were trips to the British Museum...
There were many days spent making cherry vodka...

And now it's autumn.
The days grow shorter as the walnuts grow plumper...
My final O.U course has started and I am become a mature student again...
Work continues to take up far too much of my time and energy...
I begin to send my novel submission to a few agents...   
Plans are afoot for my return to Brittany when The Universe deems that the time is right...
The planet circles the sun
and the tapestry of life is woven
All is as it should be

Today I was approached with a quite unexpected and interesting suggestion...
Would I care to move to Singapore for two years?
A very generous package, a very interesting role, a very large leap into the dark
The question is, how brave do I feel?

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Paimpol - August 2013

On Tuesday mornings the market comes to Paimpol.

Many people still fondly assume that the French spend their days wandering round market stalls, carefully selecting each individual fruit and vegetable, chatting with a seller of cheeses, handpicking a live chicken from a cage, perhaps discussing which herbs to use with a particular piece of meat...

In reality the bulk of the weekly shopping is done in supermarkets but the weekly market is a special occasion and many people will take the time to visit it to treat themselves to 'real food'.
And to chat with the stall holders, pass the time of day with acquaintances and sip coffee with friends.

If you arrive at around eleven o'clock a delicious Croque Monsieur, eaten at the café by the harbour, will set you up nicely for a wander round the market stalls and streets of the town.

And from your table you can watch people playing the game of 'Hunt the Parking Space'.

I am not a dedicated shopper, although I do find it hard to resist the hippy-style tunics and blouses that are so often to be found on French country market stalls.

But really, I prefer to wander, to take pictures, often with a view to dabbling in a little painting at a later date.

This one would make one such lovely painting I think?

And this house, facing the water and the bobbing boats caught my eye.

The French do love their shutters, window boxes and pots of flowers.

Just off one of the pedestrian streets there is an artist's workshop and gallery.

I've visited it in the past and admired the blue pottery and seascapes, but by the time that we arrived it was closed for lunch.

The French stop for lunch. It's frustrating and irritating, until you get used to it and adopt the same habit, and then it's a pleasant pause in a busy day.

Paimpol is very touristy.
Which is why we all flock there in summer.

And it's quite an expensive town in which to shop. Which is no reason not to indulge in a few pretty  souvenirs and gifts.

But it's also full of little architectural gems, most of which are seen when you raise your eyes from the shop window displays.

Which is not to say that the shops themselves are not also beautiful.

This IS France, after all, and they do do everything with style and panache.

You should buy flowers, they will be beautifully arranged and delightfully gift-wrapped and you will never again buy a cheap bunch from a garage forecourt, not once you've bought from a florist like this one.

So, what did we buy at the market in Paimpol?

We bought two little sandstone plaques, one of a Celtic cross, one of a peace dove, to hang on the wall of my house in Oxfordshire.  And the lady selling them was delightfully friendly and patient, even though we'd arrived as she was packing up for lunch.

We bought paints, brushes and canvasses from a stall on the edge of the market. And the man selling them treated us to his humorous 'patter' and that made us laugh, even though we knew he'd used it in various forms on every client that he'd ever had.      

We bought large postcards of water colour paintings of seaside scenes to frame and hang on the walls of my bathroom in Brittany.

And then we wandered back to the café by the harbour to enjoy a chocolate crèpe and a café crème, and to sit and watch the French world go by, encore une fois. 

Thursday, 29 August 2013

La Rentrée

That's how it feels after a late August trip back home to France as I mentally prepare to return to work, and buy new pens and folders in preparation for the start of my last O.U course
La Rentrée

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Vegetarian Chilli


There is a lady in the UK, called Jack Monroe, who is cooking up a storm and generating a lot of heat in the kitchen with her blog   on which she posts about feeding herself and her son on the smallest of budgets. Jack's latest project involves recipes for meals, twenty or so portions of which can be served up for the cost of a posh latte, the idea being that we donate that money to a local food bank here in the UK.

Leaving aside the politics of hunger, and the disgraceful fact that food banks are now becoming commonplace as the credit crunch continues, and even working families with professional wage-earners are now struggling to put food on the table, Jack's certainly made me think about how much I spend on food and how I can cut my own costs. 

So, while we're in France here's one meal that I will be cooking. I think that Jack would approve...

Vegetarian chilli
Now, you can be a tad flexible with these ingredients
I. for instance, if you find that your newly-bought Carrefour garlic is, as sometimes happens, a little below-par, add more onion instead.
2. If your chilli plant has enjoyed the summer so much that it's gone over the top in producing plump, shiny chillis, throw in an extra one for good luck
3. Swap the tinned beans for cheaper dried ones (soak for 8 hours first)

But here's the official line:

1 tbsp oil (I use a healthy mix of organic sunflower, olive, flaxseed etc oils since I'm going for the cancer-buster properties of this dish here)
2 onions chopped
a red pepper and a yellow pepper, chopped (red and yellow veggies are extra-good)
2 cloves of garlic
Large tin tomatoes (excellent for anti-prostate cancer for you chaps)
a teaspoon of red oregano
4 teaspoons of hot chilli powder (hey, be bold!)
A heap of cooked kidney beans (mine are organic and need soaking and boiling, beware the poisons in under-cooked kidney beans)
a tin of chick peas
I large, plump red chilli, de-seeded and chopped (or two if you have a glut)
salt (not really, just being silly, no-one needs salt, unless you are a sea creature in which case feel free to indulge)

and to add to the cooked chilli
grated cheese and sour cream
all served on cooked rice


Chop onions, garlic and peppers and gently cook in the oil until soft
Add tomatoes and chilli with the spices and herbs and cook for 15 minutes
Add the beans in all their manifestations and cook for another 10 minutes while you also cook the rice

Et voila!

Add grated cheese and sour cream and enjoy

(Jack has a similar recipe that includes dark chocolate. Chilli and chocolate is a combination that never ceases to surprise me so I may add a couple of of squares of that too next time I cook this)  

Sunday, 11 August 2013


As I prepare for a visit to France I am thinking 'langoustines'...
The only time that I eat them is on a ferry crossing or at home in Brittany. Although once I arrived at the restaurant on the Bretagne to find that there were no langoustines left. I plucked up the courage to ask a waiter "Excuse me, are there any more langoustines please?" and he smiled and said that he would go and check. Well, I waited for a long five minutes and he didn't return so, feeling foolish for having stood there like Oliver with an empty gruel bowl, I  backed away from the buffet blushing with embarrassment and returned to my table with only a few prawns and a limp lettuce leaf. 
In France it took me a long time to tackle the purchase, cooking and consumption of something still breathing...

Lobsters were too much for me to tackle, much as I adore devouring their sweet, tender flesh, especially accompanied by French fries and mayonnaise and washed down with copious quantities of ice-cold beer

So one day my good friend C. chose langoustines for my initiation into the art of cooking live food

(Supper was also a kindly gesture aimed at helping to mend my newly-broken heart.)

Food will do it every time!

Such pretty colours, such interesting eyes, such freshness, such still-crawling!

So, into the pot of boiling water....

A few of them twitched alarmingly but S. reassured me that they were just indulging in a few random reflex reactions and felt nothing

I was not convinced but...

After two minutes of lively boiling and a good rinse under cold water they were ready

We consumed vast quantities with slices of fresh bread (there is no other kind in France) liberally spread with good Brittany butter, fresh mayonnaise and a glass of white wine

The next morning at the local market...

After several café crèmes with the English friends that I unexpectedly encountered as I was slinking into the cafe, intent on a quiet coffee and a good read, I set off shopping

Walking straight past the van that serves 'English fish and chips' to homesick Ex-Pats...
Past one fish stall that is adequate but not the best...
And up to the one parked in front of La Maison de la Presse

I ordered 10 live langoustines and a lemon sole, filleted bien sûr...

The evidence, langoustines boiling on my stove ------->

With buttered organic baguette and homemade mayonnaise the langoustines were my lunch

Petit à petit I am crawling towards cooking that first lobster

Maybe this time...

Friday, 9 August 2013

Roses for Love...

It is, as we all know, very important to take time to smell the roses...
This is a truth that I learned while living in France and one that I'd forgotten during my first two years back in the corporate cage when I fell into the trap of allowing work once again to dominate my life. That's always a danger if an employee is conscientious and hard-working, a good employer will not permit it to happen, but good employers are rarely found now.

But when I moved to this little house by the green I found myself again.
And now I spend a great deal of time wandering and pausing to observe the walnuts, to pick wild cherries, to admire a passing dragonfly, to rescue tiny snails from the path and butterflies from spiders' webs...
And to 'smell the roses'.

In ten days time I will be at my house in France and I am hoping that my friends, who I affectionately call The Hippies, will still have roses blooming in their garden because I'd like to spend another evening like this one...

Roses For Love:
One evening I enjoyed aperitifs with The Hippies and a pair of visiting parents. Such joy! Having no parents of my own I do adore spending time with other people's.

We sat in the garden, sipped our drinks and chatted about This and That and other such importantly unimportant matters.

As I sat soaking up the early-evening sunshine and inhaling the health air with its scents of flowers and newly-mown grass I gazed in admiration at S's rose garden

And then I could control myself no longer, I slipped from my seat and took a stroll amongst the roses stopping to smell their heady pefumes

Small, but beautifully blooming and fabulously fragrant...
And as I moved among the roses each one rose reminded me of someone long gone

A neat, dark red and delicately fragrant rose was Jeannie, my best friend who died in 2003 leaving a hole in my life that can never be filled. She was quite proper and grown-up and sensible but I could reduce her to helpless giggles with my silly humour and we shared a passion for languages that was quite wonderful. Jeannie kept my feet on the ground much of the time and I, for my part, often swept her off hers.

The large, slightly blousy orange-tinged pink was my maternal grandmother, Alice. She was one of those fun, fluffy, disorganised grandmothers who think it more important to bake fairy cakes than to clean windows.  When The Black Dog hounded her I baked the cakes and cleaned the windows.

A prim and proper little bloom was Auntie Emily. She coped with more personal tragedies in her life than any person ever should, and she never spoke of them, or sadly I was too young to hear her if she did. She was a strong wonderful, my Auntie Em.

A bunch of yellow roses was my mother. A difficult woman who sought answers in addictions and, of course, never found them. She never quite got the whole concept of mothering and I, for my part, reacted by growing up independent and feisty and never quite understood why, until she died and it was too late. 

A ridiculously orange rose was my mother in law, Millie. She was already old when we first met and since I was taking her baby son from her, our relationship could have been thorny. But we were quite alike, Millie and I, quirky, adventurous, fun-loving and, above all,  devoted mothers, and so we became very close 'partners in crime'. Millie died on the day of my father's funeral. A double blow from which I am still reeling, twenty-five years later.    

Now, I read once, somewhere, that rose oil is excellent for those who are grieving and finding it hard to move past a period of mourning. Which is fitting, given that all of those women who were most important in my life have left it.

The English herbalist Thomas Culpepper wrote that red roses strengthen the heart, which is perhaps why they are given as a symbol of everlasting love

For me the scent of rose petals takes me back in time and evokes the memories of all the strong and wonderful women whose wisdom and love I carry in my heart today.

And as I wandered through the rose garden and bent to inhale the intoxicating perfumes of each bush, I felt as if the spirits of those women were with me and I could see, in my mind, each smiling face

Roses, for love...

Saturday, 3 August 2013

The Man Who Makes Roses

Brittany is full of special people

People who have stepped aside from the rat race, from the 9-5 routine with its emphasis on making money, acquiring material possessions, keeping up with the Jones'...

People who have chosen to walk a healthier, saner and kinder path through this life

One day I had need of someone to weld a broken piece of metal so I'd arranged to go to a nearby friend whose companion, S., is a master of metalwork

This is where they live

In an old hamlet comprising several houses and a manoir that are built around a central garden with a large pool and roses, roses everywhere

In Brittany you can buy a small village for the price of a three-bedroomed detatched in Abingdon

Well, almost....

As I arrived a strange sound filled the air

It was the community of ridiculously, unbelievably, bright green male frogs on the pond in the centre of the garden, each defending their testosterone territories with loud croaks and complaints

I scrambled through the overgrown garden to snap a picture

and then I wandered

This is the chapel...

It is a perfect place for meditation.
If you close the heavy wooden door you shut out the sunshine and light and are plunged into a dark and dreamy world of peace and reflection illuminated only by the rainbows through the tiny stained glass window

I asked to return with my mat and a candle for some periods of deep and intense reflection and spiritual healing...

"Of course, anytime, you are always welcome" was the reply

All around the central pond are rose-covered walks and little 'rooms' where painted benches invite you to sit and pause and stay a while....

It is a truly magical place

But the best surprise was, for me, discovering that the quiet and shy S. makes roses....

and once you ask him about his passion and he starts to tell you how he creates new roses, the patience required to pollinate a rose and to nurture its rose hips and how carefully you must tend the babies and how you never know what you will get and the wonder of it all, this shy man blooms as beautifully as his flowers

I was totally entranced and enthralled!
I could have stayed to listen to him forever

This is Zippy

S. actually made this rose

It's small and bright as a drop of sunshine and it smells absolutely divine!

And it is as unique as its 'father'

As S. walked me back to my car, which seemed a compliment coming from this shy and retiring man, we passed this rose growing in the hedge

He was surprised...

He'd never noticed it before

It was as if it had just bloomed today

My gift from S. is the small pink rose that he presented me with before I left...

It had no name, now it bears mine

And I feel truly honoured

A man who makes roses is a very special man indeed and a real treasure

n'est-ce pas?

I returned in a dreamy, almost meditative state.

As I was pottering around my courtyard in the warm sunshine the phone rang.

It was a prospective employer asking if I would be available in August...

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

In the Kitchen - Lettuce eat soup

A short respite from the canicule as we were suddenly treated to a few cold and very torrential downpours accompanied, occasionally, by claps of thunder and sparks of lightning, and now we're promised another scorching hot day today.

I'm attempting to address my currently high stress levels with some kitchen-therapy.

Now that the cherries are over, and I have several preserving jars of them soaking in various alcoholic mixes and various small jars filled withe jams and compotes and relishes, now that the cherry season has passed, it's time to cast my eyes around for something else to play with.

So how about lettuces?
I eat them daily in my tuna salad, but liberally doused in Heinz Salad Cream, having been raised in a decade when mayonnaise was considered to be Fancy French Muck, which means that I rarely taste the lettuce leaves. Which is a shame really. So back to my Breton-Days when, even though I had a surfeit of lettuces growing in my garden, several friends in the village sneakily took to leaving their own unloved lettuces in carrier bags on my gate, and the only option to avoid being over-whelmed by lettuces was to make soup from them. 

Recipe: The Cyber Tour Guide to Lettuce Soup

2 large Breton onions, peeled and diced
4 fat cloves of garlic from your English neighbour's garden
6 dew-fresh common or garden lettuces
handful of gentle herbs (mint works well) from the pots on the window ledge
4 oz organic Brittany butter, the one with flecks of sea salt
2 oz organic plain flour
2 pints of vegetable stock
1/2 pint organic milk

Fry the onions and crushed garlic in butter until they're soft but take care not to brown the mixture. Sprinkle the flour over pan and stir gently for a minute. Slowly add the stock, stirring gently and then pour in the milk, still stirring and petit à petit bring to the boil. Chop the lettuces and add to the pan with the herbs and salt and pepper according to your taste. (If you used salted butter then you won't need any more salt now).

Let it simmer gently. It will fill your kitchen with fresh, green aromas and endow you with a feeling of health and vitality, while you water the plants or wash the dishes. After around 20 minutes remove the pan from the heat and allow it to cool slightly. Blend in a liquidiser until smooth and silky.

Now you can choose to store the soup in the fridge or, if you REALLY are inundated with lettuces and drastic measures are called-for, freeze it in rigid containers.

If, however, you've just just come in from cutting the grass that's as high as an elephant's eye, with a useless little Flymo, and are in desperate need of a healthy and flavoursome snack, then eat it now with a crusty 'zig-zag loaf' from the village boulangerie

(Quantities given are sufficient for everyone in a small French village)

Now for the science...

The Health Benefits of Lettuce:
Low in calories
A good source of dietary fibre and vitamins A, B, C and K
Contains the minerals potassium, magnesium and calcium
Said to contain folic acid
Reputed to help prevent bone degradation in post-menopausal women

Sunday, 28 July 2013

La cerise sur le gateau...

When I look back on the summer of 2013 I will think of it as The Cherry Summer.

For the last four or five weeks we have been enjoying a heatwave here in England.

I say 'enjoying' because it does not suit everyone. There are some who suffer in a scorching sun, many people have allergies which, I am pretty sure, were rare and quite exotic when I was a child, the dog doesn't do heat, driving is a trial when the air conditioning stops working, sleep is elusive when the night is hot and humid, tempers become frayed...

But it is possible to adapt and to thrive in a heatwave, a canicule, as they say in France where, after the canicule of 2003, they take such events much more seriously than do we Mad Dogs and Englishmen. It simply requires a little adjustment to one's schedule and daily habits, such as walking the dog at 4:30am before the full force of the sun's rays has hit the fields, and keeping the bottle of gin in the freezer, from which it will emerge, frosty and delicious once the sun has sunk below the neighbour's ash trees, and evicting a bag of frozen peas in order to make room for ice cubes and ice lollies and ice cream, and raising the hemline while lowering the neckline, and sleeping as close to the window as possible and au naturel...  

And most of all, just jolly well enjoying the summer!

This year I made an important discovery while walking among my beloved walnuts...

which are, I am delighted to report, having a wonderful summer...

which makes me very happy indeed....

But this year I discovered a cherry tree.
How can it have happened that I, a self-confessed tree-hugger and explorer of nature, have managed to miss the cherry tree for three years? 

"The cherry is the fruit of many plants of the genus Prunus, and is a fleshy drupe (stone fruit). The cherry fruits of commerce are usually obtained from a limited number of species, including especially cultivars of the sweet cherry, Prunus avium." (Wikipedia)

"The native range of the sweet cherry extends through most of Europe, western Asia and parts of northern Africa, and the fruit has been consumed throughout its range since prehistoric times. A form of cherry was introduced into England at Teynham, near Sittingbourne in Kent by order of Henry VIII, who had tasted them in Flanders" (Wikipedia)

At first I was very restrained. I just picked a handful of cherries to munch as the dog and I wandered, and I pointed out the tree to my fellow dog-walkers, "There's a cherry tree over there, did you know?" But no-one else seemed to be interested in the cherries. So I took a bowl and picked a few and came home to sit in a shady room and eat my cherries and marvel at this free treat. And still no-one seemed to be interested in the cherries.

So I took a bag and picked enough to make a small pot of jam.

And still no-one seemed to be interested in the cherries and, other than putting up a sign saying "CHERRIES", there was nothing else I could do to encourage people to pick them. So I did.

Well, I picked enough for a cherry pie 

and for a cherry liquer made with vodka and brandy

it needs to mature for three months which will make it a perfect Christmas tipple...

And then, inspired, I made cherry vodka

This will be ready in time for me to take to France.

I'm planning to take a bottle for a friend in the village who delights in giving me 'interesting' drinks to try after dinner.


I left enough cherries for the birds to feast on.
And plenty for anyone else who cares to pick them.
But no-one has...

 There are other cherry trees growing among the trees on the other side of the green.

They're smaller and this one is quite sour.

I'm thinking a cherry relish to eat with pan-fried duck breasts?

This one is very, very small and very, very sweet.

And since it is ripe, cherry-ripe, and so abundant, I think more cherry vodka? 

I can't understand why no-one else has picked the cherries. It's such a waste to leave them on the trees and they are so delicious. And the price of fresh cherries in the shops! I think my harvest would have cost me a King's ransom had I bought them, instead of picking them for free.

And it has been such a pleasure, this picking cherries...
And such fun to make jam, and pies, and delicious drinks.

I've frozen a few cherry stones.
As I explained to The Ragazza when she asked me why there are little pots of pips next to the ice cubes, they don't germinate until they've experienced a few sub-zero temperatures. I am hoping that they'll grow into little cherry trees which I will nurture and cherish and take to France to plant in my garden.

Cherish the cherries, that's been my motto this summer...

Cherish the cherries