Category Archives: Food

Knitting, Soup & Savoury Muffins

As much as I love the warmth of spring and summer, there’s something about the autumn light and the urge to wrap up, nest, and make warm, hearty food that makes me wonder whether I should really choose autumn as my favourite season.

The weather cooled all of the sudden just a week or so ago. Before that, luckily while my parents were visiting, we had some 20-degree days where it was warm enough to want to swim and perfect for picnics. Then the next day, just like that, it was 3 degrees. Almost overnight the leaves on the trees turned and the last courgette and tomato plants withered in the veggie patch.

The contrast between being in and out of the sun at this time of year is stark. On those 20-degree days it was glorious outside. The house we rent doesn’t have a garden. The garden is there but is owned by a neighbour and no longer connected to the house. We have permission to use it, which is great, but it means going out of the front door, onto the road, and around through the gate at the side. Also, not having direct access means there are no doors onto it and since that’s where the sun is, as soon a the sun starts to dip in the sky, this East-West facing house becomes cold inside. I’d say on the days with warm sun and cool air there can be a 10-degree difference between inside and out. Over the years that adds up to a lot of extra wood being burned!

With the cool air, the crunch of leaves underfoot, and a sewing room that is open to outside via an uninsulated storage room (grange) on the ground floor below, my mind has made the mental switch in to hibernation mode. At lunchtimes I’m craving soup over salad. On cool days I think of knitting woolly hats and socks rather than sewing summer dresses.

The only trouble is the two smalls rarely eat the soups I make. To my amazement both the recipes below got the seal of approval from DD, which is why I thought I’d better make a permanent record of them pronto! DS did all but throw his on the floor in protest. Oh well. It’s going to a long winter for him if he refuses to eat soup!

The savoury muffins recipe is thrown in at the end because it was also a bit of a hit. If you try and of these or have your own variations, let me know in the comments! Next time I make something I’ll try to add some pics.

Recipes

Squash/Pumpkin & Lentil Soup

Ingredients

Pumpkin or squash. Use whatever squash you have available (I used half a red kuri (hokkaido) squash and a piece long island cheese pumpkin.
1 cup of red lentils
1 onion
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
1 stock cube (I usually use chicken but for a veggie version just use a meat-free one.)
3 small carrots
2 cloves of garlic
1/3 cup of orange juice
A handful of fresh sage, chopped

Method

  1. Chop all the veg and soak/wash the lentils.
  2. Saute the onions and garlic in a deep pan until translucent.
  3. Add the squash and cook until starting to soften, stirring often.
  4. Add the tomatoes and stir to cook through.
  5. Add the lentils.
  6. Add enough water to cover all the veg, then stir in the stock cube.
  7. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer.
  8. When all the veg is softened, add the sage.
  9. Whizz up with a blender.
  10. Add orange juice plus salt and pepper to taste (mine didn’t need salt because the stock cube was salty enough).

Cheesy Green Soup

Inspired after bumping into my neighbour, who was coming in from the garden with a basket of freshly picked leaves, I thought I’d try this soup on everyone at lunch time. To my surprise it was a success, measured by DD saying, “Well done, you cooked the right dinner, Mummy,” and eating it all up!

Ingredients

A good handful of young and small mallow (mauve) leaves
1 leek
2 cloves of garlic
1 medium-sized potato
1 cup of spinach (I used chopped frozen spinach, as it needed using up!)
50g of blue cheese
1 onion
A handful of fresh parsley
1 stock cube (I usually use chicken but for a veggie version just use a meat-free one.)

Method

  1. Chop all the veg.
  2. Saute the onions and garlic in a deep pan until translucent.
  3. Add the leeks and cook until softened, stirring often.
  4. Add the greens and stir to cook through.
  5. Add enough water to cover all the veg, then stir in the stock cube.
  6. Bring to the boil then reduce to a simmer.
  7. When all the veg is softened, add the parsley and stir to cook through.
  8. Whizz up with a blender.
  9. Add salt and pepper to taste (mine didn’t need salt because the stock cube was salty enough).

Breakfast Muffins (Bacon and Mushroom)

This one came about one morning when we realised we had run out of pretty much everything, in particular our usual breakfast of either pancakes or porridge.

I used this recipe from The Worktop for the base, with a few tweaks because, of course, I did’t have everything I needed. These came out well but the smalls didn’t like them. More for me and James then!

The great thing about muffins is the will freeze well, much like scones, so any leftovers can be stored for another time. I used to do this all the time when DD was small as muffins were a baby-led weaning favourite of ours but I don’t think I’ve made them once since DS was born. But now they’re definitely back on the menu. I just have to find a good combo that DS and DD will eat.

Ingredients

Muffin base
1 1/3 cups white whole wheat flour (also called golden wholegrain flour)
3/4 cup oatmeal
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 medium egg (it should have been two but I only had one, so I added extra milk and a squirt of mustard mayo)
3/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup oil

Filling
2 cups of chopped mushrooms
1 packet of lardons (back bacon would be better but it’s impossible to buy in France)
1 clove of garlic (it’s that time of year – garlic in everything!)

Method

  1. Set the oven to 190 degrees.
  2. Saute the mushrooms in oil until the start to soften.
  3. Add the garlic and lardons. Stir until the lardons are cooked through then turn off the heat and allow to cool.
  4. Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
  5. Mix all the wet ingredients together in a smaller bowl.
  6. Stir the bacon and mushroom mixture into the flour etc in the large bowl.
  7. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry.
  8. Spoon the mixture into a greased muffin tray.
  9. Place in the oven and cook for 10-15 minutes. They’re ready when a skewer or tooth pick comes out clean.
  10. Allow to cool a little or eat straight away.

 

 

 

 

 

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Making Compote, Making Friends

The day after the incident with the text message and shortly after DS was stung by a hornet, I was chatting to our neighbour (voisine) – “M” – who kindly invited us to join her the next afternoon when she was expecting a visit from a friend. Together they were going pick the pears that had ripened and make them into compote. Would we like to help? Yes, lovely!

During this same conversation she’d been trying to tell me something (in French, of course, as  M doesn’t know English) about a congélateur. I was tired. She was saying something about putting pears in the congélateur for 12 hours then they would keep. Eh? I envisaged her friend coming down from Paris with some fancy processing machine I’d never heard of.

The next day, when James had to pop out on an errand leaving me with the two smalls who were keen to play outside, I saw M was busy preparing the pears with her friend so popped over to ask her about her congélateur and to help. What is it? Could she show me? She led me through to the kitchen to… the freezer, of course! Feeling a bit daft and with that cleared up we headed to the terrace to join her friend who was still busy chopping pears ready to cook down on the stove into compote. My French was sadly lacking that afternoon (it was about 5 o’clock already and it had been a looonng day after another not so great night) and while usually M and I can muddle along, I was really struggling to either hear or speak – but luckily her friend spoke enough English that between us we could manage a conversation. It didn’t take long before I was seated at the table chopping pears while the kids picked out and ate the juiciest ones in between bashing rocks with sticks. We’re quite easy to please really.

James arrived back just as the pear preparations were complete and bubbling away on the stove. By now it was 6pm, so what else to do but pop open a bottle of vin de noix and rest before continuing with our evenings. I think I’ve discovered a new favourite tipple. Maybe it was the booze, but somehow my French came back and I managed to join in the conversation with M, her friend and James. Since her friend is here to buy a house and has a similar remit to us we talked house prices, the English invasion (they’ve pushed up the prices here and aren’t popular for it) and how there isn’t any work locally to justify the high prices and then what can be done about all that. It was really lovely and just what I needed after the unpleasant encounter with Mr. Front National two days previously. Because M doesn’t speak English it forces me to speak French and she is so patient with me, as I try to wrestle words from the back of my tired brain, always telling me to take my time when she sees I am getting frustrated. I think she likes us and we all really like having her over the road, sharing her knowledge of the place, the people and the land. Even though sometimes I can barely understand half of what she’s saying we get the idea muddling along together, or we just give up with a shrug and a laugh and go on our way. Other times it all just flows and then magic happens – along with compote.

We had a takeaway!

If I had to list one thing that I miss about the UK it’s being able to sack off cooking the evening meal and pick up a takeaway. We were totally spoiled for a choice at our old house and being so close to the city and with so many densely populated suburbs around we could have a different takeaway every night. Not that we did: we weren’t big fans of Chinese food so it was usually emergency fish and chips or a curry. At peak times (like when DS was born) we’d have one maybe two takeouts a week. More often it would be one or two a month.

But it wasn’t just takeaways. There were also many great places we knew we could nip out to for a quick and cheap lunch. Actually too many to list but two worthy of a shout out were Dukes in Glossop (definitely a favourite) and Dolly’s in Hadfield. Thinking about it, there was food everywhere where we used to live. Fast forward nine months and here we are in rural France where a) nothing is open and/or serving food outside of regular lunchtime hours of 12-2 and dinner time hours of 7-10 and all those places sell either pizza or burgers or a three-course set lunch (plat de jour) for between 12 and 15 euros, and b) places that sell takeaway are few and far between and at least a 20-minute drive away.

And so it was that James had to make an emergency trip to the tabac in Quillan in order to pick up some e-liquid. It had been a particularly long day with DD really putting us through our parenting paces with lots of shouting and attitude, tired out after a couple of long days and late nights (how do you make a three-year-old sleep!?). He’s been trying to quit the nicotine but hasn’t quite made it yet, so… We’re trying to keep our spending low and one of the main ways to do that is by limiting trips here and there in the car, which means planning round trips for errands rather than thinking of things and going back and forth at the time. Fine. But we’d already been over that way today so I was a bit cross both that he felt this warranted the extra trip and also that he was about to leave me to wrangle both children, one of which was malfunctioning, which would mean a delay to our meal time and, consequently, a later bedtime, which was the last thing DD needed! But then it came to me. There are two Chinese restaurants in Quillan and they both serve takeout – yay!! So that was it. Sod the cost-savings, this was a sanity saving mission and worth any amount of money.

Excited by the prospect of an end to the takeaway famine, off he went armed with rough directions from me based on where I thought it was. I waited expectantly. I’d seen signs on the main road for a restaurant and emporter but couldn’t remember the name of the place, so I did what anyone else would do these days and Googled it.

asian emporter quillan

A place called Asily came up but that wasn’t in the right place. I’d told James I’d find it and check the menu then message him my order, so I had to find it. How hard could it be!?

10 minutes later I’m no closer to finding it. This is a feature of life in France that I really can’t get the hang of, namely, the Internet just doesn’t work properly! Either businesses don’t have websites at all or, if they do, they are shockingly bad with terrible URLs, no use at all to Google, or totally lacking in content – many are still using frames, animated GIFS (flaming text, anyone?), and other horrors that were normal on the Internet over 15 years ago but not the done thing any more. It’s pretty dire. I tried so many search terms. In the end I resorted to using street view in Google Maps to “drive” to the outside and see what it was called. Armed with the name of the place – Tamarin – I was able to Google it and see what I could find. Try it. Try not to laugh. It turns out not only do they not have a website they also aren’t listed on TripAdvisor. By now I’m thinking suggesting we buy anything to eat from here is going to be a bad idea. Then James turns up. No going back then.

When he walked through the door I was half expecting him to be empty handed. It was probably closed. Or not serving yet. Or not serving takeaway. Or didn’t have any change so couldn’t take his order. Honestly, France is like that. Surprisingly though, he managed to both find the place (it’s easier to find in real life than online) and actually buy food there. But it wasn’t quite what we were expecting. Twenty euros lighter, he had four plastic containers of food and was busily warming them up on the hob. Apparently there was no menu and the guy “serving” gave no indication that he would be cooking anything that evening. Takeaway food was prepackaged and stored in plastic containers in a fridge. Sounds weird, right? Of the six or seven dishes there were to choose from James came home with two noodles dishes and two with chicken. That was about all we knew about them.

He heated it all up. We ate it. It was entirely unspectacular. I was struck while eating them that I could have rustled up something tastier for much less money in the forty minutes it took for James to go out and come back. Even with two screaming children in tow I could have done a better job, frankly. Don’t get me wrong: it wasn’t bad. I’ve had bad Chinese before and this wasn’t bad. But it wasn’t good either. If that’s the standard I can see why takeaway really hasn’t caught on over here. Really. If that was the only one takeaway in the world, yes, I would probably go back but it would be like an act of self-harm, one where it seemed like a good idea at the time but with every mouthful I’d be thinking how I’d rather have spent the 40 minutes cooking something and not spent the 20 euros.

And because they’re not on TripAdvisor I can’t even leave a lacklustre review. Sigh.

So yes, we had a takeaway but it was a far cry from what I was hoping for so now I’m on a mission. If there’s a place out there that serves decent takeaway, I will find it, dammit!