Tuesday, November 30, 2010

snow snow snow snow - I dream of being snowed in

The French farmers are far too practical here, so no doubt I will be able to get to work tomorrow as normal. In the meantime I get to keep cooking all the leftovers from the chest freezer - tonight spicy meatballs.

With the chickens wandering around, wading through the snow, I also took the opportunity to take a few photos and intend to get them loaded onto flickr tonight.

Have to make the most of the internet connection while we still have it - photos uploaded to flickr and redbubble.

But I did manage to take the dog for a walk today - our tracks through the snow were the only signs of life on the lanes.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Ernie strikes again

I bought Ernie for Brendan last April for his birthday. He was only a few weeks old. We fed him by hand, with plastic pop bottles full of milk. He and Arthur were the best of friends.

Then he grew up. And he got big, then he got bigger, then he got even bigger, and then he got bigger still.

And when he got big - he got territorial, he got a bit aggressive with certain people who he just decided that he did not like the look of.

In December 2009, when we were all calling him Ernie Ba$tard, we put him in the freezer. A ginormous chest freezer that the neighbours lent us. He almost filled it.

And now that chest freezer has died. We suspect that the mice have nibbled through some of the essential bits of wiring. Is is stored in the barn after all.

Today I have been desperately trying to move the last bits of Ernie from the chest freezer into the upright, but having managed to squeeze various bits of him in, I have not been able to get all the veggie harvest in around him. Not surprising considering I have managed to freeze 10 bags of courgettes, and 9 bags of green beans, as well as several large carrier bags full of broccoli, cauli and cabbage.

This afternoon whilst stuck in the house waiting for an important phone call from the UK (that never came due to the staff shortages caused by the inclement weather according to the email I eventually received), I have been cooking up various veggie dishes to try to use up the veggies that I cannot store any longer. Luckily as the weather has not been above freezing all day I can still leave all the left over bits in the chest freezer for now.

Brendan and Thea are already sick of cauliflower cheese and courgettes and pumpkins, and they have not even had to eat any of them yet.

Cabbage and bacon tomorrow. Followed by beetroots and carrots.

Perhaps I should mention that I also found the secret stash of Magnums from the summer - or perhaps not.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday lunch with friends....

...is great way to spend the day?

There are not that many of us ex-pats here in this forgotten part of France, and whilst loath to develop that enclave personality that can be all too prevelant in ex-pat communities around the globe, we have been very lucky to make some very good friends here. And spending time with them is the highlight of our social scene. A dinner party is our equivalent of a trip to the pub, a takeaway, a trip to the cinema or a coffee and a tour of the shops.

Got home this afternoon to find the cats rampaging around the house and Thea glued to the PS3 totally oblivious. Thankfully she had remembered to throw the odd chunk of wood into the Rayburn so the house was not freezing, which was extra thankfulness because the temperature had plummeted to -7°C by 6pm. We had driven home through sleety rain and green fields, through a blizzard and arrived back to our white snowy blanket sparkling in the sunshine but so very crisp and cold. Every town here seems to have its own micro climate, very diverse.

So this evening started with some tidying up, all the housework left undone through the week, you know the boring stuff like the bathroom and the dusting, while Brendan got to fitting the new car battery; when he came in and announced that the chest freezer in the barn had blown up. Knowing his penchant for exaggeration, I queried the 'blown up' part, and he told me he had just received an electric shock from it and so had tested the outside of it and found 110Volts - it was running live. Not good. I had been in it yesterday searching for dinner inspiration but due to my being a complete klutz I only ever wear rubber soled shoes in the snow and therefore managed to avoid the shock treatment myself.

Back in the UK we bought an upright drawer freezer for £10 from the local press and it has been used on and off as we have needed it for the last 4 years, until last winter when we needed more space for Ernie, and so took in a big old chest freezer and retired the upright. Good old quality goods, this tatty outdated upright, which must be 20 years old got a quick wipe over with a bleachy cloth to sanitise it and off it went again, saving the day and all my cuts of lamb as well as the best part of my veggie crop from this year.

Not that any of this was my plan for the day, but that got hijacked very early on this morning - instead of a bit of genteel Christmas decoration making, followed by some dainty Christmas card sticking and colouring, I have been tackling rugs. Or more accurately trying to clean white wool rugs after kitten rampaging that involved a tipped up lemon tree and the dirt being used as a litter tray, and then the dog bringing in a few chicken poo clinkers stuck to his fur and rubbing them into his bedding.

With thanks to my lovely mum, my early Christmas pressie cheered me up, a lovely new rug in the living room. Cue some rug shuffling. Soiled rug went to the bin as white wool does not come clean after being used for a toilet by naughty kittens, dog bed got bits cut off it ready for washing and patching up with the old living room rug also cut up to make a new draught excluder for the front door.

Naughty Ferguson come for a cuddle after being naughty again

Time for a Martini with a cocktail stick of cherries and a bit of TV.
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Saturday, November 27, 2010

Brrrr = brrrrread

Ferguson and Pond decide that the window sill is better than stepping foot into the snow.

And when the weather is white and wintery what could be better than baking bread.

Iranian Barbari

These flat breads are so simple to make, taste great and and bake really fast.

225g unbleached white flour
1 teaspoon salt
15g fresh dried active yeast
140ml lukewarm water
1 teaspoon sugar
olive oil for brushing

Activate the yeast by combining the sugar with the water, adding the yeast and leaving for about 15 minutes until there are a couple of centimetres of froth visible.

Sift the flour and the salt into a bowl, add the yeast and mix together to form a soft dough, then on a floured surface knead for 8 to 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Leave to rise for an hour in an oiled bowl, covered by a damp tea towel or oiled cling film, in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size.

Knock back the dough and turn out onto a floured surface.  Divide it up into 6 equal sized portions, then shape into ovals, about 10 centimetres long and about a centimetre thick.  Space well apart on some floured baking trays, slash two or three slits across the top of the bread and leave to rise for another 20 minutes, covered by some oiled cling film.

Brush with olive oil just before baking for 15 minutes at 200°C, or until a pale golden colour.

These flat breads taste best warm, and can be used for dipping into runny curry sauces, stews and casseroles - or like us for lunch, with butter and homemade cherry jam.

Pond and Mr Pink ignore the snowy weather and lie around in front of the Rayburn.

While I am on a baking spree and have copious amounts of flour flung across the kitchen I am attempting some breakfast rolls - ready for a lazy Sunday morning tomorrow before we head out for lunch with friends.


225g unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
50g caster sugar
15g dried active yeast
75ml lukewarm milk
1 beaten egg
30ml sunflower oil
50g melted butter

Activate the yeast with the milk and sugar, leave for about 15 minutes until frothy.

Sift the flour and the salt into a bowl, make a well and add the yeast, the beaten egg and the sunflower oil, and mix to form a smooth dough.

Knead on a floured surface until smooth and elastic, then place in an oiled bowl, cover and leave to rise for about an hour in a warm place or until doubled in size.

Knock back and turn out onto a floured surface, then divide into roughly 16 equal sized balls.  Rub each ball between the palms of your floured hands to create a 30 cm thin rope of dough.

Dip each rope into the melted butter and in a greased baking tray arrange in a coil.

Cover with oiled cling film and leave to rise for another 45 minutes in a warm place until they double in size.

Brush the rolls with water and dust with icing sugar, then bake for 10 minutes until light golden brown.

Mine are in the oven now and I am hoping they turn out like these:

Once baked, leave to cool then dust with icing sugar again.  Serve either warm or cold.

I remember these with fond memories on holiday in Spain.  When Thea was much younger and a much fussier eater we used to buy these on holiday and she would eat them pretty much all day long.  They rapidly became one of her favourite foods and we used to have to smuggle packets and packets home in our suitcases.  Nowadays I think you can find them in Lidl or Aldi, every now and again they even turn up here in our French supermarkets on special Spanish flavour promotions.  But nothing beats the smell of home baking, and even if I don't manage to make them look like the real thing, nor taste exactly like the real thing, at least I have made them and filled the house with the smell of baking.

Domestic goddessy or what?

All this belies the fact that I was up a 5.45am this morning watching the snow fall and dawn break.  I had two fires lit and the coffee on by 6.30am.  I think I will be ready for a nap in about an hour's time.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Spontaneous acts of love

Thank you Thea.
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A door closes window opens kind of day

This is my Stinky Eric, very very sadly missed.

But the loss of Stinky gave me Ferguson. Window closes, door opens

But I have had to put down a rabbit today. Did you know that rabbits are carnivorous?  Or more accurately cannabalistic?

I have a hutch with 2 females rabbits in together, which are due for the freezer, but not had a chance to cull them recently.  They obviously got in a fight, and this morning I found that one had been pretty much eaten from the back leg across the spine.  Overnight.

Yuck - in fact very yuck.  Clean thigh bones exposed and spine visible.  Worse than anything in Saw.

I hate losing animals even when they are livestock due for my own dinner table and I know they are destined to be killed, it is the senseless loss that upsets me.

Door closes, window opens - I have just discovered one of the other rabbits about to give birth.

Unfortunately with temperatures at -7°C overnight, they don't really stand much chance of surviving.

Rabbits have the capability to absorb their young rather than birth them if the conditions are not right, so for her sake I actually hope that is what she does, but it may be too late.  Alternatively she may birth them prematurely, and there will be tiny hairless corpses to dispose of.   Just moving her into a hutch indoors out of the extremes of the weather this morning may cause her to abort.

Keeping animals really does teach you a lot about death.

Each tiny death stills affects me, and I hope that it continues to do so.

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

101 ways with filo pastry

Lovely lamb fillet courtesy of our lamb Ernie last year

....not really 101 ways, but my favourite, samosas.

Filo pastry is very hard to find in our neck of the woods, in fact it is as rare as rocking horse doings, but yet again my lovely north African supermarket came to the rescue, and nestled in the back of their fridge there was a sole pack of filo.

So I grabbed it and ran from the shop, throwing a few coins at the poor bemused girl at the till on my way past, cackling and caressing the packet all the way. Err - may be a while before I am welcome there again.

Over the last few days as I have been cooking for an army again, I have been using the leftovers in samosa fillings, experimenting with various spice combinations to get a lovely curry flavour.

Here are a couple of my favourites:

Traditional Indian Lamb Samosa filling

500g of left over meat or fresh minced lamb
1 onion
2 cloves of garlic crushed
1teaspon curry powder
½ teaspon chilli powder
1 teasmon ground tumeric
½ teaspon gorund roasted cumin seeds
1 fresh chilli finaly diced
1 teaspoon fresh coriander or ½ teapsoon ground coriander
1 cm of fresh grated ginger
salt and ground pepper to taste
juice of half a lemon

Combine all the spices with the juice of the lemon to make a paste, fry the onion and garlic, add the meat and fry until cooked through if using raw meat, then stir through the paste.

Place a tablespoon of mixture onto the edge of your filo pastry strip and fold as per the photos above, always folding the long edge at right angles.

In an attempt to be slightly healthier, I don't fry my samosas but oven bake them, they only need 5 minutes each side at 220°C, but do remember to turn them otherwise you'll have one crisp side and one soggy side.

Alternative Veggie Samosa filling 

½ cup cooked green beans or peas or carrots or any other left over cooked veg
4 medium cooked potatoes
1 fresh green chilli
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon ground coriander
handful of raisins
handful of sliced almonds

and if you have it
½ teaspoon dried mango powder

In a bowl, combine all the ingredients together then fold as above, and oven bake as above.

None of the snow from yesterday has stuck, but it has just started snowing again, looks like a peaceful afternoon of cross stitch for me, and hopefully I can get my second knitted hat finished today.

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Quality time

It is Wednesday afternoon, it is snowing, the fires are lit, Thea and I are installed on the sofa in front of the dvd of Clash of the Titans with a packet of bolognese crisps.

Does life get any better than this?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What is the difference between...

...light golden beige, light golden brown and pale sand?

Well a couple of DMC numbers on a counted cross stitch chart is the answer.

The kit I have started came with two hanks of silks unlabeled, and a handy cardboard guide to attach them too. It only took me an hour to work out the shade difference between 17 strands of blue to individual strands of light blue, light steel blue, steel blue, blue, sky blue, dark blue, light blue and navy.

You would think that I would hate that but no for some reason it appealed to my anal retentiveness, the biggest problem being the lack of sunlight to see by and trying to work out the nuances of colour by artifical light aggravated by the light being provided by low energy bulbs.

Anyhoo - started the picture with several strands of dark brown, as opposed to dark chestnut. Looking forward to getting on with that this afternoon.

Also started my knitting yesterday....

Very simple warm woolly hat pattern, one size fits all, ladies pattern

Using a thickish chunky wool and size 5mm needles, cast on 100 stitches.  

The thicker the wool the bigger the needles and the less stitches you need to cast on, a rough guide is if you go up a needle size you lose 10 stitches, so with size 6 needles and a chunky wool, cast on 90 stitches instead.

  1. Row 1, knit to end, Row 2, purl to end, repeat until row 7.  This first inch will curl naturally to create the brim.
  2. Row 8 (right side), knit 10, purl 10, repeat to end.  Repeat this pattern stitch until body of the hat measures 6 inches not counting the curled brim.
  3. Start reducing at every 5th stitch following the pattern.  So begin your pattern knit 10 stitches, but at stitch 5, knit two together, continue to your purl 10, and at the 5th stitch purl two together.  
  4. Continue this reducing pattern on wrong and right sides, until you are left with 5 stitches, pull thread through and sew the hat edges together.

On a good day I can get this knitted to 2 episodes of House.  Or a full episode of Midsomer Murders.  

Unfortunately I did not get the chance to finish it yesterday so looking forward today to being able to finish a project again - although it does not really count as finished until I decide on the decoration that I am going to embelish it with.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Serves me right

for looking at the weather forecast

Snow for Thursday, and a predicted -21°C for Saturday night.

Thu 25 NovMorning-1 °c-3 °c1008 mb3 mm98 %
3 mph
In Detail
Afternoon-1 °c-7 °c1009 mb5.8 mm100 %
6 mph
Evening-7 °c-12 °c1013 mb0.9 mm99 %
8 mph

Sat 27 NovMorning-7 °c-13 °c1012 mb0.8 mm99 %12 mph
In Detail
Afternoon-6 °c-15 °c1014 mb0.5 mm89 %8 mph
Evening-17 °c-21 °c1015 mb0.1 mm72 %4 mph
Sun 28 NovMorning-5 °c-4 °c1013 mb0 mm94 %1 mph
In Detail
Afternoon-4 °c-18 °c1012 mb0 mm83 %1 mph
Evening-15 °c-10 °c1011 mb0.4 mm95 %2 mph

That is just one forecast though, so hoping that they have got it wrong!