I only finished off our Simnel Cake yesterday, traditionally decorated with almond paste and eleven eggs – one for each of Jesus’ disciples, but excluding Judas, who betrayed him – then lightly toasted. Sadly, we can’t actually share it with anyone this year, but please enjoy a Virtual Slice.
Oh … er … I’m quite out of the habit. Nobody’s been round for tea of coffee for a year now. Haven’t you heard that there’s a pandemic on? Still, a Virtual Gathering, to which all of my blogging pals are cordially invited: could I manage that? Let’s see. An old favourite might be best for a cake. Lemon drizzle maybe. It’s one of those cakes we all seem to have a recipe for if we bake at all. These days I use about half the recommended amount of sugar both in the cake itself, and in the lemon drizzle topping. Nobody seems to notice. I also usually bake with wholemeal spelt flour rather than with common-or-garden plain white. So you could even pretend this cake is the healthy option. I’ll pop it on a plate in a minute. Or maybe you’d like a cashew-nut butter cookie? Would you prefer tea or coffee? I warn you now, everyone says my tea’s dreadful. Since I rarely drink the stuff, I can’t tell the difference between gnat’s pee and Builder’s Brew.
Um. Where could I sit you all? Luckily it’s a nice day, so let’s go into the garden, where we can do Social Distancing. Could you carry a tray out for me please?
It’s that time of year when the house is permeated by the bitter, bright, clean and honeysweet smell of marmalade-in-the-making, as a pan of carefully cut up peels, juice and sugar bubble away enticingly in the kitchen to make this year’s supply of Seville Orange Marmalade. Is anything more guaranteed to wake you up and start your day with a zing than a couple of slices of toast and home-made marmalade?
Up above your head, in many a Spanish street, are oranges, glowing orbs of colour that brighten the cityscape. And two years ago we were in Valencia, home of the orange. Finding windfalls abandoned in the Turia Gardens, we gathered them and brought them home. What could be better than marmalade made, by you, from oranges you’ve harvested yourselves?
It turns out that my first marmalade post was written on 21st January. Today is the 22nd. I hope this isn’t a hanging offence, in the world of Flashback Friday.
It’s almost the end of the month and I haven’t yet revisited a post from our years in France. Becky introduced her readers to Flashback Friday. That’ll do me. Especially in the week of the Great British Bake-off final.
‘LET THEM EAT CAKE’ 27th November 2012
Back in the UK, I hear everyone’s gone baking mad, that the entire nation was glued to its screens to watch the final of ‘The Great British Bake-off’. Here in France, it’s the one branch of cookery in which the average French person will allow the average Brit some supremacy.
The French are rightly proud of their high-end patisserie, the delectable tarts and gâteaux which traditionally come to the table at the end of a family celebration or Sunday lunch: from the baker’s naturally, no shame in that.
More day-to-day baking is a different matter, however. Plainish cakes, loaf-shaped and known in France as ‘cake’, are a big disappointment, especially if they’re from the supermarket. I find them over-dry, over-sugared, too strongly flavoured with something, such as vanilla, that should be a subtle undertone. I never thought I’d find myself saying this, but even cakes available in any old British supermarket can be quite a treat in comparison.
McVitie’s Jamaican ginger cake, for example, dark and sticky, is just the thing with a hot cuppa after a brisk country walk in winter: it even has its own website. And while I’m not sure that Mr. Kipling makes exceedingly good cakes, they’re – well – not too bad.
No wonder then, that when we run our cookery workshops at Découvertes Terres Lointaines, and announce that we’ll be turning our hands to British tea-time treats, the group is immediately oversubscribed . Scones, coffee and walnut cake and a nice of cup of tea anyone?
It’s Hallowe’en today. Time to carve those pumpkins into frightening faces, and then tomorrow … throw them away. What a pity. Pumpkins come in all shapes and sizes, they’re good to eat, and it’s a shame you rarely see anything but the good old bog-standard Jack o’ Lantern here. They can be large, small, yellow, red, orange, green, even bluish or black, and on mainland Europe they’re much more appreciated.
Enjoy the pumpkins on display, many of them from Le Jardin Extraordinaire in Lieurac , near where we lived in France. And then have a go at the comforting recipe I offer here because you don’t really want to scare the neighbours with an evil orange face peering out of your front window do you?
#Kinda Square. Today is the final square in Becky’s month long squares project. Thank you Becky, and thank you fellow squarers. It’s been fun. I’ve met kindness, had my interest kindled and met – virtually of course – many bloggers-of-a-kind.
I decline to have anything to do with Christmas before December 1st at the earliest. I close my eyes to Christmas decorations in the streets, and scuttle out of any shops belting out Christmas musak. A three month long celebration ain’t our kind of Christmas at all.
There are just two exceptions. Christmas pudding has to be made on Stir Up Sunday. And since I was a small girl, October half term has been the time to make the Christmas cake. That way, it’s got time to sit and mature, have all those rich flavours get acquainted, and wait for us to feed it with frequent tablespoonsful of hooch. We made the cakes last Saturday – one for each family in the family – and today I’ve got them out again to pour a little whisky on the already sozzled cakes.
That’s the beginning of our kind of Christmas.
#Kinda Square Be sure to read Becky’s post. She has some fine suggestions to make today a better day for you, and for others.
Here are just a few among dozens of apple varieties displayed at last year’s Apple Day at Ripon’s Walled Garden. It’s where adults and young people with learning disabilities are supported into employment through the skills they learn in this wonderful garden environment.
It rained yesterday, and the day before. All day. Self-indulgence was in order. An afternoon of cosiness and cooking. I took myself off to the kitchen. I made rich flavoursome stock from the weekend’s chicken carcass. I got ahead and made a meal for later. And then I indulged us both by making a cake – one I’d spotted and book-marked in last weekend’s Guardian.
Although not especially pretty, it really is rather good. Unless you’re working hard on keeping your waistline in trim, in which case it’s not. But it has a high Feel-Good Factor, which is a prerequisite of being kind to oneself.
I was casting around wondering what to post for this week’s Lens-Artists Challenge, Labour of Love. And I remembered a wonderful experience I had when I lived in France, when I was part of a small team invited to cook an English school dinner for a local primary school. Truly, the experience was a Labour of Love, as it was for the charismatic school cook, each and every day. My memories of this special day are entirely positive and happy.
September 26th 2012
‘School dinners, school dinners….
‘School dinners, school dinners.
Iron beans, iron beans.
Sloppy semolina, sloppy semolina –
I feel sick, get a bowl quick.’*
Do you remember this cheery ditty from your days eating school dinners? Only if you’re British, I suppose. And most right-thinking French men women and children would be quite prepared to believe that all English food is just like that.
Not the mayor of Villeneuve d’Olmes, where Découverte de Terres Lointaines has taken its Yorkshire exhibition this week. Back at the planning stage, he’d told us about their school caterer, M. Feliu, who uses almost entirely organic or local ingredients, and who likes to introduce the children to the cooking of other countries every time the excuse arises.
We met M. Feliu at La Freychède. We worked together to produce a menu (Cheap. Tempting to the young French palate. Three courses that work with the kitchen facilities to hand. Conforming to nutritional standards).
This is what we came up with:
Crudités with beetroot chutney
Macaroni cheese with green salad
Blackberry and apple Betty with custard.
Yesterday was the day. I turned up at 10.00 with my English friend and colleague Susie to find the work almost done. All we had left was to churn out batons of carrot, black radish and cucumber for the first course, which was not, let’s face it, Awfully British. But it had to fit in with other considerations as above.
11.00: The prepared and cooked food was heaved into insulated containers, and transported by van to one of the local schools.
11.30. Ditto with van number 2. This batch was sent off to Villeneuve d’Olmes, with me following.
12.00. Children arrived at the canteen. One of the helpers, Pascale, spoke good English. ‘What’s your name?’ she’d say to each child in English. When she had her reply, they could go in, and sit down at one of the circular tables, tinies in one room, and juniors in another. I joined a table of lively 7 year olds.
One of the staff told me the rules that the children expect to follow:
- Take turns to serve the dishes of food to everyone at table.
- Wait till everyone’s served before beginning to eat.
- Try everything.
- You can have the portion size you choose. Once it’s on your plate though, you have to eat it.
Everyone accepts this and we all sat together, eating and chatting. The children chomped their way through all the crudités, they even enjoyed the chutney, whose sweet and sour taste is not an automatic choice round here.
Once cleared away, bread appeared on the table – this is France after all.
Two more children served the macaroni cheese and the salad. Most of us came back for seconds.
We sang ‘Happy Birthday’ – in English – to a birthday girl.
I gave an impromptu talk on the food on offer.
The blackberry and apple Betty was served. Yum! How could it fail? Gently cooked fruit with a crunchy crust of soft breadcrumbs crisped in golden syrup and butter, with obligatory custard, of course.
Then the children cleared their tables, stacking dirty plates and glasses neatly for washing up, before going off to play.
I was so impressed. The children here learn that the midday meal is so much more than a pit-stop. The expectations, reinforced daily, are that this is a moment to spend with friends, a time to share, to think about the needs of others, and to appreciate the food on offer. The occasion lasted well over an hour.
* To the tune of Frère Jacques
It’s got to the point where we could almost put chilli on our breakfast cereal. Jalapeño, Scotch bonnet, bird’s eye, habanero, chipotle, cayenne: all have become everyday objects in our home.
Our love affair with the chilli began in France. This is odd, because the French, on the whole, do not do spicy foods. ‘Are you trying to kill me?’ Henri howled, clutching his throat, when we put before him one day the mildest of all mild kormas.
But on a smallholding near us, a chilli enthusiast, Jean-Phillipe Turpin was busy. He grew mild chillies, medium-hot chillies, and chillies so hot they were off the Scoville scale. We came to call him ‘Mr. Chilli’.
He came to sell his wares every week in summer and autumn at two local markets. Fresh chillies, strings of dried chillies, powdered chillies, chilli plants. We became regular customers, as did other English, from far and wide. The French? Not so much.
Back in England, we still buy different chillies, every week. The dozens of varieties purveyed by Mr. Chilli rarely come our way. The ones we do have are everyday objects in our house. As are jars of spicy pastes and potions.